First, let’s define it: A portal fantasy is a story about a character who gets transported (perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not) into a fantastic or alternate world. They pass through a portal of some kind (a wardrobe? a tunnel? an interdimensional hole?) and find themselves in a reality that’s different from the world they left behind.
“As anyone who reads science fiction and fantasy can tell you, life is full of doors … appearing unexpectedly, leading to unexpected places. Other worlds, other times. Narnia. An alien planet. The Bronze Age.” James Davis Nicoll
During December, you’re invited to explore a couple of dozen portals and doorways, via “Passing Through Portals,” a month-long promotion sponsored by StoryOrigin and 20 or so participating authors, myself among them.
The past 30 days have been highly productive and educational. I now have a much better idea, and a better plan, for spreading the word about the original Waterspell trilogy as well as the forthcoming Book 4 (and the forthcoming boxed set). My promotional efforts are paying off, and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t.
Today, November 18, with the official launch of Waterspell Book 4 just four months away (it should be available for pre-orders in only two months, on January 18), I’ll try to summarize what I’ve I learned.
BookBub vs. BookRaid
Hands down, BookRaid.com is better! I’ve found that BookBub is overrated and overpriced. Comparing my continuously-running BookBub ads with my one-day BookRaid ad:
• BookBub got 273 clicks at a cost of $160 = $0.58 per click • BookRaid got 715 clicks at a cost of $62 = $0.086 per click
That’s right: A one-dayBookRaid ad attracted nearly three times as many clicks, and cost me less than 9 cents per click. BookRaid advertising maxes out at $60. No matter how many clicks an ad gets, the advertiser will not be charged more than $60. It’s a Canadian company, and my credit card charged me $1.80 foreign transaction fee, so the actual, final cost came to $61.80. Divided by 715 clicks, however, that’s less than 9 cents per click, compared to the nearly 60 cents per click (!) at BookBub. What a bargain BookRaid is!
Particularly in light of the great results. My BookBub ads had been running almost continuously for weeks, and they were barely moving the needle at Amazon. In fact, almost no Amazon (Kindle) customers were even clicking on my BookBub ads; those ads mostly attracted Google Books and Apple-Canada readers. (I love my Google Books and Apple-Canada readers! Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that Amazon rankings count for so much in the crazy world of publishing.)
#147 Fantasy Adventure #289 Sword & Sorcery #305 Epic Fantasy
But then on November 7, following my one-day BookRaid ad, my Amazon rankings were:
#446 overall #4 Fantasy Adventure #8 Coming of Age #8 Sword & Sorcery
The numbers also improved at Barnes & Noble: from 124,953 before BookRaid, to 71,283 after.
ManyBooks and Fussy Librarian
Pleased though I was with those numbers, I wasn’t done experimenting. I scheduled ads for the very next Saturday, November 13, benefiting from discounted prices at both The Fussy Librarian ($39, regularly $49) and ManyBooks.net ($19, regularly $29). With those promotions running simultaneously, I can’t say which was the most effective, but together they brought me great results. That Saturday morning, Book 1 was ranked #3256 at Amazon: #26 Fantasy Adventure, #51 Sword & Sorcery, #52 Epic Fantasy.
That day and the next, those numbers climbed:
My conclusion? Stop wasting money on ineffective, overpriced BookBub ads, and direct my promotional dollars instead to the lovely folks at BookRaid, ManyBooks, and Fussy Librarian.
Goodreads and Other Social Media
After taking Alessandra Torre’s free Goodreads webinar, I’ve got a somewhat higher opinion of Goodreads. I’ve tried to implement Alessandra’s great advice about interacting effectively and efficiently on that platform. Some of her advice is:
• Leave reviews for books you love (those you can honestly 5-star) • Like/comment on other reader reviews of those same books • Mark your current read as “Reading” • Leave your own review of your own books (no star rating, just your comments) • Like/comment on the 5-star reviews that readers have given you • Share a Goodreads review on your other social media
After doing these things, I’ve definitely seen more engagement with readers at Goodreads. To my absolute delight, several new readers have gifted me 5-star reviews there. These are the first new interactions I’ve had at Goodreads in ages. My effective promotion (via BookRaid, Many Books, and Fussy Librarian), combined with my more enthusiastic Goodreads participation, seems to be attracting new supporters to my cause. I’m deeply grateful. ♥
These new 5-star ratings have raised my overall numbers at Goodreads to 3.97. Alessandra Torre said the average rating there is 3.5 stars, so I’m feeling good about being “above average.” ↑ Goodreads has a reputation as troll central: too often, there seems to be more emphasis on savaging a writer than on appreciating the time and effort it takes to write a book. With Alessandra’s blessing, I’ll try harder to boost and appreciate the work of my colleagues, to share the love in this crazy publishing free-for-all.
As for my other social-media efforts:
Instagram is working well. I’m connecting with readers and authors there. So far it hasn’t brought me any new reviews (that I know of), but I enjoy interacting with Bookstagrammers.
My personal Facebook profile is reserved mostly for my private life, but when I get good book news, I’m thrilled to share it with my friends and feel their love.
The Facebook groups in which I’ve been active are getting less of my time now. They’re either not focused enough on my genre, or they’re actively hostile to authors’ promotional efforts. The latter has surprised me.
All that I’ve learned this past month has helped me refocus my efforts. It dawned on me that, instead of spending my entire marketing budget on individual Book 1 and Book 4 promotions, I should instead plan to vigorously promote the next big thing on my to-do list, which is the boxed set of the complete Waterspell series.
With that future marketing in mind, I’m taking a break from paid advertising for the next six weeks or so. Gonna save my money for a big push in early 2022—especially now that I know what works to move the needle at Amazon.
Book 1 Amazon rank 18 Nov 2021
Even today, five days after my dual ManyBooks/Fussy Librarian promotion, Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock is well ranked at Amazon. And now it’s got 39 ratings: one more than yesterday. People are finding it and reading it! I am feeling much encouraged. It may indeed be possible to relaunch this series, after Life with a capital L sidelined me for too many years.
Four weeks have flown by in a swirl of promotional activities. Now it’s time to take stock and decide what’s working, and what needs adjusting.
Discounting. Making Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock free in all ebook formats has definitely raised the book’s profile. At one point, it ranked about #1,200 in the Kindle store, and around #46 in Fantasy Adventure Fiction. Alas, I did not screen-shoot those lofty numbers, so now I can’t prove what I saw. As of today, however, the book is still ranking respectably at Amazon (as pictured). Its sales rank at Barnes & Noble also improved quite a bit. There’s no doubt: making it free has made Book 1 more visible.
Reviews. Free ebooks have NOT yielded new reviews, however. I’m kinda gobsmacked over the difficulty of getting readers to post reviews. Even giving away paperback copies to potential reviewers has garnered only one new review in a whole month. It’s a reality check, for sure, regarding the vast numbers of books that are available to readers, and the vast numbers of authors who are clamoring for the attention of those readers.
Exploring additional avenues to get reviews, I’ve signed up at StoryOrigin. There, I posted a sample as a Reader Magnet, and my offer of a free review copy has been accepted by two readers so far. Also, I’ll be participating in a group promo for Portal Fantasy books, Dec. 1–31.
Just today, I entered Waterspell Book 1 in a monthly book giveaway sponsored by Reader Views. Am waiting to hear when the giveaway will be scheduled. It’ll be in time, I hope, to help with next year’s planned Book 4 publicity.
Bookstagram. This platform has been encouraging. I’m connecting with other authors, and with reviewers and book bloggers. Two readers have accepted my offer of a free review copy in exchange for honest reviews. Those reviews have not yet been posted, leaving me to wonder whether they will be. Fingers crossed.
BookBub ads. Mixed results here. I’ve tested various graphics. All of these (below) have attracted some clicks, but none has performed spectacularly. For my next month of advertising, I’m switching to Freebooksy.
Blog Tours. Going on blog tours was the best way I got reviews when the Waterspell trilogy was first published. I’m thinking it may be time to investigate what’s available these days. On Bookstagram, I follow TBR and Beyond Tours. Not sure they’re a perfect fit, but I’ll look into them further. I’ve bookmarked several other possibilities at The Book Designer.
Those of you who occasionally read my blog posts (thank you! I love you!) have probably figured out, by now, that I use this space for thinking out loud. It’s my planning area. Without my posts on “discoverability,” I’d never be able to keep track of plans made, plans executed, or plans adjusted. All of this marketing work is squeezed into the hours when I’m not actively writing—or formatting.
On top of everything else, I’m repaginating the paperback editions to skinny-up the print books a tad (in light of current printing and shipping costs) and to update the copyright and About the Author pages. Scattered about my house are PDFs of Books 1, 2, and 4, with Book 3 yet to be repaginated. The Book 4 manuscript is out with my final beta reader, I’m busily promoting Book 1, and I’m trying to be a regular Bookstagrammer, while not wholly neglecting Goodreads and Facebook. The days are just packed! And now I’ve added StoryOrigin to my online efforts. I can’t keep this up forever. About a month after Book 4 is published, I’m going to collapse and sleep for three days.
Release date for Waterspell Book 4 is March 18, 2022. Which means I’m now officially in the six-month pre-release window. I’ve got a plan and I’m working it.
Today I made Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock free at every bookseller that will let me: B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords. Amazon is resisting going lower than 99 cents, and I can’t figure out how to “tell them about a lower price.” I thought there would be a button or something to click on the book’s Amazon page, but I’m not seeing it. Maybe Amazon’s zealousness about not being undersold will soon work to drop the Kindle price to free. Google Books also seems slow to respond to my price drop; I’ll keep checking back until the Google page shows it for free.*
*9/21/21 Update: Amazon and Google have caught up. The Book 1 ebook is now free in ALL ebook formats. Price-matching triumphs again. 😀
Most of the rest of today, I’ve spent making Instagram posts to get the word out about a free ebook. I’m not quite ready to post either of these yet, preferring to feature a few more Reader Reviews first, but these graphics are ready to go when the time seems right:
I’ve also reached out to some book reviewers with whom I’ve connected on Instagram. I have review copies (print and ebook) ready to send out in exchange for honest reviews. (Fantasy fans, you need merely ask, and you shall receive.)
The Book 4 manuscript has gone out to a trusted beta reader who is herself an author. I know that I (and the book) will greatly benefit from her feedback. She’s showing me the great kindness of reading the entire original trilogy to refresh her memory of the backstory before diving into Book 4.
Now it’s quitting time for today, and my neck is stiff from too many hours at the computer. I’ll need to learn to pace myself as the clock counts down to December 18, 2021, the first day of pre-orders, and then to March 18, 2022, the Book 4 release day. I’m trying to figure out when and how to do a Cover Reveal in there somewhere.
Which reminds me: I must also see to a new paperback cover for Book 4. To do that, I’ll need to determine how many pages the book will occupy in print. No point doing that, though, until I hear from my beta reader. Almost certainly her comments will lead to a final round of edits.
It’s going to be a busy Fall and Spring. I’m ready. I have a plan and I’m working it.
Sitting on a bookshelf over my computer desk, for several years, has been a spiral notebook that I filled with quotes and notes from the books I was reading while writing the first three books of Waterspell. I bought the notebook in Mexico, where my late husband and I were living at the time, and where the original Waterspell trilogy was largely written. Our house on Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara, made for the perfect writer’s den. I was insulated from my formerly too-busy life north of the border, and could devote myself full-time to the creative act of writing fiction, and to reading widely in support of my work.
Once the original trilogy got published, I seldom or never looked at the notebook that I’d filled with pertinent or inspiring notes and quotes. After getting on Instagram, however, I pulled the notebook off the shelf and, paging through it, discovered that I had created a wonderfully diverse archive of readily Instagram-able thoughts and sayings.
They have inspired me to feverish sessions at Canva, where I’ve upgraded to a Pro account to have access to ALL of the pretty pictures. I’m having a great time creating square-shaped graphics that feature quotes gleaned from my jam-packed notebook. On Instagram I’m alternating such quotes with excerpts from readers’ reviews of Waterspell, and the strategy seems to be working. I’m connecting with readers, reviewers, bloggers, and other authors much faster and more easily than I’ve ever managed to do on my largely useless Facebook author page.
Here’s a sample of the Author Quotes that I’ve taken from my old Mexican notebook and transformed on the Canva interface into post-worthy graphics:
And here are some of the graphics I’ve made to feature excerpts from readers’ reviews:
I am deeply grateful to the readers and bloggers who gave Waterspell such wonderful reviews upon the books’ original publication. I’m grateful to Canva for making it so easy and such fun to feature these review snippets as attractive graphics. I’m grateful to Bookstagram for giving me a place to post my Canva creations. Canva and I, and my books and Instagram, are jelling together quite well these days. Giving me hope that I may yet break through the static and bring my work to the attention of new readers, upon the publication of Waterspell Book 4, and to new listeners as well, when the long-in-progress audiobooks are finally released.
When books meet tech the right way, the results can be beautiful.
Being more oriented to words than to pictures, I had no interest in Instagram until I learned about its subgenre, Bookstagram. (Book Instagram = #bookstagram ) Now I’ve taken the plunge. Early activity is promising: In just my first two days I connected with several book reviewers and bloggers. When I get at least 20 potential reviewers, I’ll offer them complimentary copies of Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock. I’m told that Amazon treats writers better when their books have at least 50 reviews. As a series, Waterspell has more than that, but Book 1 by itself has only 35. My goal is to get that number to at least 50 before I start serious promotion of the forthcoming audiobooks and Book 4.
If you enjoy reviewing fantasy books, please drop me a note at waterspell(at)earthlink(dot)net. I have review copies of The Warlock available in all formats, print as well as ebooks, but I can mail the paperbacks within the US and Canada only.
Full disclosure up front: Book 1: The Warlock ends on a cliffhanger. And as reviewer Twiggy Piggy says: “The moment you finish this book, you WILL want to go on to the next.” (Perhaps I could supply you with that next book, too. Let’s talk.)
A good day’s work. Got my errands done in town this morning, then drafted a heartfelt Author’s Note for the back of Waterspell Book 4 and tweaked the blurb into something I’m almost happy with. Thoughts are welcome. Does this give too much away?
In the House of Verek, it’s five years later. The waters are troubled. Memories are darkening. If the story is to end “happily ever after” for Carin and Verek, old demons must be laid to rest.
Readers of the Waterspell fantasy series will welcome this long-awaited fourth book for the answers it provides to questions raised in volumes 1 through 3: Does the wysard Verek regain his powers, and will Carin make her way back to him? Have Carin’s parents survived the plague that devastated their world, and will she ever see them again? Did Lanse survive the attack by Carin’s defender? Is Lord Legary really dead? And not least: Did the necromancer die in the jaws of Carin’s conjured dragon? Remember: there was no blood in the water. These questions and more are answered in Waterspell Book 4, which picks up the story of the lovers, Carin and Verek, half a decade after readers saw the pair separated in the closing chapters of the original trilogy.
By the blood of Abraxas, it’s about time we learned what happened next.
The Plan calls for investigating the usefulness of BookBub, a book discovery service that features free and discounted ebooks. Quickly I learned that it’s great for readers. In Week 1 of getting their daily emails featuring ebook bargains, I bought six new books or series (pictured, Refraction through Book of Dragons). None of these cost me more than $3. Such a deal!
BookBub ad 1
I’ve also tentatively begun advertising on BookBub. My first ad served up 1,600 impressions but garnered only eight clicks. Being inexperienced with this ad platform, I paid for impressions rather than clicks. So far, I can’t see the logic in spending money on “impressions,” which are nothing more than opened emails. There’s no guarantee that people will even scroll all the way to the end of the email, where the ads appear. As I see it, “impressions” mean little or nothing. It’s clicks that should matter.
BookBub ad 2
For Ad No. 2, I changed the tagline and bid on clicks, not impressions. This ad has been running for three days now, serving up fewer impressions but not burning through the test budget like my first ad did.
BookBub ad 3
I’ll give Ad No. 2 a week, then change the text again, to test a question rather than a statement. My Facebook focus group likes Ad No. 3 the best of all the examples I offered for their scrutiny.
All things considered, I believe there’s more reason to invest time and money in reaching the “power readers” at BookBub, rather than work at growing an audience for my Facebook author page. Facebook users are a distractible bunch, their interests running the gamut. BookBub (every time I start to type that, it comes out Boobbub!) is laser-focused on people who buy books.
And clearly, those readers don’t want to spend much money. I can’t blame them. I myself scarfed up the dollar bargains as quickly as they came my way.
Therefore, after testing Ads 1, 2, and 3, my next step will be to drop the price of Waterspell Book 1 to 99 cents (or free, if Amazon will let me) and see what the response is.
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
"If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list." —Once Upon a YA Book
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot's earliest flights of fancy. On her father's farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her Bucket List was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a complex, intricately detailed fantasy that begins with The Warlockand The Wysard, and concludes (for the present) with The Wisewoman. But a legal pad filled with notes, formerly tucked away in a desk drawer, has grown into a nearly finished Book 4 that will, in Spring 2022, complete the saga, at long last. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country south of Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dark dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell trilogy—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.