ABNA was nice while it lasted, but…

…not, in retrospect, quite as nice as I’d expected.

Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a brilliant idea to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers. Kudos to them for coming up with it.

I wasn’t at all sure about entering. The Awful Mess is women’s fiction, and it would be up against the entire general fiction category. My book verges on romance, and it has progressive religious elements. I didn’t think either aspect was going to help it. My book also has two sex scenes and some bad language. This didn’t seem to fit the guidelines for the contest. Finally, I suspected that this whole process would be a bit of a distraction from my game plan. And it was.

On the plus side, getting to the quarter finals would include a free Publishers Weekly review. And a couple of fellow authors, including one who’d made it to the quarter-finals before, urged me to jump in. I did my research and noticed generally strong marketing by Amazon for the previous winners. So, ultimately, I did jump in, with a version in which the two explicit sex scenes were jumped over.

And, as it turns out, the book made it to the quarter-finals and then into the semi-finals — which is to say, it was one of five semi-finalists for the general fiction category.

I'm in there with the ABNA semi-finalists -- I'm not just making it up!

Yes, I really was in there with the ABNA semi-finalists — I’m not just making it up!

Personally, I would not be shocked if Amazon was behind the scenes somewhere guiding this result, since they might have noticed that this book was doing pretty well for an indie debut (in its first year it sold over 1,200 copies, and had over 50,000 free downloads). If I were an acquisitions editor in their publishing division, I might think this looks like an author with potential. (The book that won the general fiction category was already self-published, too, and doing even better.)

I especially wondered this after I got my sought-after review — which, it turned out, was not really a Publishers Weekly review, in the sense of being a review actually written for and published in Publishers Weekly. It was uniformly positive, for which I was very thankful, but it seemed a little off, as if the person who wrote it hadn’t really read the entire book. It suggests that my heroine fends men off (she tries, but she’s not very good at it), and references the “rowdy bars” of the small New England town. I suppose there is one kerfuffle in one bar, but it’s hardly a major plot element. It also uses the phrase “small New England town” twice in six sentences. While I’m very grateful that it is so positive, it’s not something I can easily use for marketing, especially since I have to explain that it’s from the ABNA contest and the book was not exactly the same. So I consider this aspect a bit of a bust.

I decided that I would not attempt to enlist my friends or mount a social media campaign to gain reviews for the ABNA excerpt. I already had 170+ real reviews on the full novel, so it seemed kind of silly. Also, I was moving house and had no time to even send out a press release. This may or may not have played a part in the reality that I didn’t win my category.

Part of the reason I didn’t fight for it may be that I was feeling ambivalent about becoming an Amazon Publishing author. That it would be financially advantageous, I have little doubt. I notice that Amazon promotes its own books quite effectively, and I considered the contract all semi-finalists sign eminently fair (I once worked as an acquisitions editor, so I am more familiar with publishing contracts than most folks). But whether Amazon was likely to be a happy partner with me as I moved ahead on later books — books with even more sexual themes, plus some controversial content in the second — I wasn’t sure.

I noticed they had a truly huge list of authors in their various publishing imprints, so I had no idea what kind of attention I would get (not that I have any complaints about communication from them during this process — it was always prompt and courteous). And while Kindle Select was a great place to launch The Awful Mess, staying exclusive to Amazon would mean no branching out into Kobo, Nook, the iStore, or bookstores going forward. It might get me even less access to local bookstores than I already have as an indie. I’m not sure what it would mean for libraries, but I doubt it would help much.

Finally, my sales dipped pretty precipitously during this process. Most of this, I’m sure, is because I haven’t been promoting. After signing that contract, I wasn’t sure how much I could promote. When I finally asked, initially I was told I could do anything as a self-publisher, but then when I double-checked before confirming a BookBub promotion, and the product manager also double-checked, the lawyers said that during final voting that kind of promotion would be a no-no. Part of the sales dip may also be that I let my Kindle Select status expire because I was planning to branch out into the other retailers once I had safely lost. (Does Kindle Select status provide a measurable sales advantage on Amazon? I don’t know. I do miss the income from loans, though.) Part of it may also be confusion between the ABNA excerpt and the full book, though I doubt it.

At any rate, at this point I’m so close to launching the second book that I’m going to go ahead and get those ducks lined up before I do any serious promoting. I’m now aiming to get that published this fall. (If you’d like to be notified when it’s out, make sure you sign up for my mailing list, and then make sure you also opt in when you get the confirming email.)

So, fellow writers, if you’ve participated in ABNA at any point, did you feel it was productive for you? Would you recommend it to others? Would you do it again?



The Awful Mess is an ABNA quarter-finalist…

… which means … what?

So far, not much. I peek in at the discussions every once in a while to see if there’s something I’m missing about this process, but apparently nothing much has happened yet.

I’m trying to mostly ignore it. I didn’t enter this contest because I expected to win. “General Fiction” is such a broad category, it could go in any direction. And I am quite sure that my women’s fiction is likely to be regarded as “light” if it goes up against a compelling, manly sort of novel. It’s not terribly literary, it has Christian themes but can’t sell to the traditional Christian audience, and at least a few people would call it a romance. This is not the stuff of contest winning.

I DID want to win the free Publisher’s Weekly review, however, and that I have done.

Of course, I’ve since learned that “Publisher’s Weekly review” is a bit of an overstatement. Apparently these PW reviews are by freelancers who are not the usual PW writers, and they are being paid about $40 a pop to work their way through their assigned titles. At that rate of pay, it’s perhaps not surprising that they sometimes get a little snide. They’re earning even less per hour than I do as an adjunct.

And, alas, I think this also means that it’s unlikely the review will ever actually show up in Publisher’s Weekly.

There might also have been some business risk in doing this. Here’s someone who says that her product description for her self-published title got hijacked by Amazon’s free sample download, ruining her sales while the confusion existed.

I’m not going to freak out if that happens to me, though I think it means I’ll have to postpone some planned promotions (thankfully not scheduled yet). I just enjoyed a nice little burst of sales with the last Kindle Countdown Deal, and I’m currently in that steady drift back down to ignominy that I’ve learned to expect. But I’m not complaining. I tallied up my numbers recently and I’ve sold over 1,200 copies (and have given away over 50,000) since the book came out in June. That’s really not too shabby a reach for an indie debut.

So, if my current Amazon product page gets hijacked for the purposes of the contest for a while, it’s just not that big a deal.

Of course, the contest rules appeared to discourage sex scenes, so my actual book and the contest entry vary in that regard. If that becomes problematic, it’s possible that I’ve found an exciting new way to mess things up.

The next round of five titles for each genre will be chosen in June. I’ll let you know if by some wild stroke of luck I make it into that round. There are also rumors that one needs to have a social media push for support at this stage, but I don’t quite understand why yet. If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.

If you want to see the list of quarter-finalists for each genre, it’s here, alphabetized by author’s first name.

Kindle Countdown Deal!

I should probably let you folks know the ebook is on sale for 99 cents through April 6 and $1.99 April 7-10. And 99p that whole stretch in the UK. (Apparently Amazon UK doesn’t believe in increments.)

Thankfully, this time I knew to set up the deal in the UK. Last time I only thought I had, and it didn’t happen.

Share the news with friends who might like it, please! I didn’t invest in any heavy-duty advertising. I decided to reserve that opportunity for when I hit the other retailers, which I hope to do next month.

Hopefully I’ll have the next book ready to go not too long after that. But since I’m selling and buying a house right now, “not too long” may mean the fall. I guess this is when I find out just how efficient I am as a separated lady.

TheAwfulMess_Ebook 200 x 309

I’m pausing this blog…

… because I just have too much to do right now. Our house goes on the market Tuesday, and I’m hoping to downsize into a smaller house when it sells. I also have two courses to teach, plus writing to do, and possible freelance work on the horizon, not to mention a legal separation to accomplish (we’ve decided that it makes better sense than divorce for now, purely for financial reasons).

While I’ve enjoyed keeping the blog, and truly appreciate anyone who’s reading it, I need to go bone up on how to make it pay off before I invest a whole lot more time in it. It’s not exactly building a big following or translating into significant book sales. I also believe that right now getting the next book published should be a higher priority.

So this blog is going into hiatus, except for quick posts to let you know about any big book news, like promotions or a new release. For more day-to-day news, you might want to subscribe to my twitter feed or become friends with me at my Facebook profile or just like my author page (although I’m afraid just liking a page doesn’t do much to keep you getting news from it anymore).

Many thanks for your support — with special thanks to those of you who have commented or ‘liked’ or shared these posts beyond my little list of subscribers. That makes it seem a whole lot less like I’m talking to myself. Happy Spring!


“Discoverability” — a problem for writers AND readers

I’m sure that most new indie authors — assuming they lack a back list or name recognition  — have noticed, as I do, that in the absence of ongoing promotion our titles sink into oblivion pretty quickly. We don’t get bookstore sales of any significance, and once sales drop below a certain threshold, people browsing Amazon or other sites aren’t likely to ever see them.

Mind you, this is often true of traditional authors once their initial release period in bookstores is over, too. And then they’re pretty much stuck, unless their publishers have gotten savvy about goosing sales online (I notice that more are doing just that).

Of course, readers are also in a tight spot. Many of them would like to find good new indie authors. They know there’s good stuff to be had, and pretty cheaply, too. It’s just that there’s also a lot of crap, and sometimes it’s hard to know which is which. Not every amateur writer also has an amateur cover and amateur sales copy to warn us off, and some do mysteriously well at garnering five-star reviews. Conversely, many fine indie books suffer from an author’s lack of experience as publisher, with uninspiring or poorly targeted covers or copy. And pretty much by definition, new authors will lack reviews.

One site that I admire as both reader and writer — I suppose mostly because it is particularly rigorous and specific about its requirements — is Awesome Indies, which requires that indie authors obtain authorized reviews from people with literary credentials. I was pleased that The Awful Mess was included there recently. This site doesn’t get as much traffic as it deserves (not that I should talk, given how little this site gets). It could definitely benefit from more marketing mojo, and I hope to contribute to that effort in the future. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for solid offerings by indie authors, it’s a great place to browse.

Amazon’s own solution for indie authors is to offer (for Kindle Select authors only, of course), free days or Kindle Countdown Deals as options that can get Amazon’s own promotional algorithms working in an author’s favor. I’ve had pretty good luck with these myself, but I’ve also never counted on them to operate on their own. I’ve always done at least a little paid advertising (and free social promotion, too) to get the process going.

Of course, many indie authors don’t operate exclusively on Amazon, so those promotions aren’t quite as effective for them (it is still possible to do free and price promotions, but it’s a lot more complicated).

That’s part of the reason why a plethora of for-profit and non-profit sites and email list operators have popped up to help indie authors make connections with readers and vice versa. BookBub is the best known and most effective in my experience (and also the most expensive), partly because their lists are incredibly responsive, they have standards about what they will accept, and they are geniuses at writing sales copy (aided by their own brilliant use of A/B testing).

Others include Kindle Nation Daily, BookGorilla.com, The eReader Cafe, One Hundred Free Books, and many, many more (some of which I can’t use because my book has graphic details in it). Pretty good proof that they are effective: traditional publishers are beginning to take advantage of some of these operations, too.

Some sites or lists will accept your title even without an associated promotion. For example, Great Books Great Deals generously offers “new release” promos and/or “Less than a Latte” promotions for indie books that average over four stars. The Fussy Librarian and eBookSoda try to match readers with new books that are like other books they enjoy and these are currently either very affordable or free while they build up their lists. And there are many other similar efforts, some specific to certain genres, like Awesome Romance Novels, a site run by author Donna Fasano.

Book bloggers — often but not always fellow authors — also offer indies a way to reach an audience, although it’s a rather labor-intensive way.

Where do you find good indie authors, if you do? Share your sources! Or do you even notice the difference when you’re looking for books? I’d love to hear your take on this.

Depending on the kindness of strangers (and friends)

This is just a short post to point you to a new page I’ve put up to keep track of the various blogs where my book has been reviewed or I’ve either been interviewed or given a chance to guest post or get some very affordable exposure, or whatever.

These things mean a lot for a new author. Success in indie publishing often depends on the kindness of fellow authors and dedicated reviewers or bloggers. (Traditional publishing success often depends on this, too.)

I’ll have another short post this week about some recent nice developments.

Here’s the link again: Blog hopping.

Photo: Jumping Frog - for Blog Hopping

—From “Life Around a Lily Pad,” January 1980, National Geographic magazine

Photograph by Bianca Lavies

A struggle to the end (of the story)

This last week as I buckled down to some actual writing again, I rediscovered a story I’d started and abandoned a couple of years ago, before I ever figured out how to end it — or even decided whether it was a short story, and not something longer. (It’s already at over 5,000 words.)

Here’s how it (currently) begins:

Photographs don’t lie, I was a beautiful baby.  Of course, there are plenty of beautiful babies, but they don’t all get entered into baby beauty contests.  Especially not boys.  But not only did I win the award, my achievement made it up on the sign in front of both our stores: JOHN BLUETT, 6 MOS. OLD, WINNER, MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY.

The way I figure it, Mom got a taste of fame in her high school production of Pygmalion and never adjusted to the way it didn’t bring her money and success for the rest of her life. Or maybe she thought it actually did, since it wasn’t long after that she married my dad, Harry Bluett, heir of the Bluett Furniture Warehouse home furnishings empire.  In a city like ours Harry must have been considered quite the catch – not handsome or smart, but rich. Famous, too.

That’s because the Bluett family always appeared in their own commercials.  Especially the kids.  “You might not be able to show a lady the exact piece she wants in her dining room,” Grandpa Bluett often said, “But you can always win her heart with your cute kids!”

So I spent my childhood as a minor celebrity.  I was the oldest son, and the only kid in the family to win the Most Beautiful Baby Award (not that the others didn’t get entered).  So I was in every commercial they ever made except for that time I had the chicken pox.

“Come schee what my daddy has on special this week!” I’d say.  It was the same line every time.  People watched me grow up saying it at the beginning or the end of some new commercial every month or so.  Some people thought my sibilant s’s were really cute.  Not the other boys at school, who liked to say, “Hey, Johnny, what you got on schpecial this week?”  When I finally got old enough to demand that I not have to say the word “daddy” on television, they got my sister Gloria to do it.  But I still had to stand around and point at furniture.

Now, I like this guy. I like his voice. I also like the problem he soon encounters with a young lady named Palmyra, who has a unique approach to men.

But damned if I know how to get him through it all in a way that satisfies in less than 12,000 words. Maybe even 60,000 words. Do I really have to write a whole novel just to find out how these guys are going to end up? I’m not sure I like him THAT much.

Ending short stories has got to be the single most difficult task I ever face as a writer. Most of the “complete” stories I have just sit around on my hard drive, where I periodically read them and think, “Yeah, okay… but that ending isn’t quite right yet.”

I don’t have that issue with the novels, so far. Even the third one, which is not finished, already has an ending I love. I just haven’t written the novel all the way to it yet. (Yes, I usually skip ahead and write endings when I’m about three quarters of the way through. At that point I need reassurance that I know where I’m going. Then when I really get there I have to rewrite it, of course, but at least I’m confident in the meantime.)

Why is it so much easier to end a novel than a story?

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this. I’m an English major who studied fiction writing in both college and grad school, so I’ve read plenty of classic short stories. In my classes at HVCC I have taught short stories that have lovely, perfect endings. Through Media Bistro I took an online course with John Rowell, whose stories in The Music of Your Life really impressed me. My friend Lucia Nevai is a real master at ending short stories well (and everything else about them, too — and I’m not just saying this; she won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize). Anyway, Lucia’s been kind enough to read my stuff and give me feedback.

Feedback like, on one of my stories, “you haven’t quite earned that ending yet.” (Though she probably put it more diplomatically than that.)

Damn it.

I’m thinking about this because I’d like to clean out the hard drive of all that work and put a volume of stories out. So I’m just kind of whining, now, about how hard it is to write good short stories, and how there’s also no market for them, really, outside of literary journals that almost no one reads except people who somehow managed to get published in them, which they have only done after collecting hundreds of little rejection slips or rejection emails, or knowing somebody, or somehow being so incredibly talented or awesomely cool that the potential of bright literary notoriety rises off their prose in little clouds.

Even when you’re a real author who has arrived and won awards and such, publishers tend to think of publishing a volume of short stories as a vanity move, something to win some good notices for an author (and publishing house) rather than something they expect to generate serious revenue.

I doubt there’s a single author in the US today who makes a good living purely from writing literary short stories. (Maybe Alice Munro manages, but she’s Canadian.)

But short stories as a genre are experiencing a bit of a revival thanks to ebooks and indie publishing. And the reason I’m interested in putting together a collection is that on Amazon I could give them away, or charge 99 cents (which is still more than I’d get in a literary journal) and then people who like them might actually buy my other books.

(Also, it’s a way of putting off The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire just a tad, because I expect that one to encounter some push back. Traditionally published writers are a little more insulated from controversy than indie writers, for whom a few ill-timed one-star reviews can spell disaster.)

Anyway, this week I decided I’d share a little work in progress with you. I thought it would be an economical solution to the time writing this blog takes, but of course it took just as long to write as it ever does, or maybe even longer.

If you’d like to hear more about John Bluett, let me know. I could use a little motivation to help me finish his story!

Speaking of problems with endings…

This weekend a firestorm has erupted over J.K. Rowling saying that she thinks she should have had Hermione Granger end up with Harry Potter rather than Ron Weasley. I happen to totally agree with her, but oh my there’s a lot of condemnation going on out there among Potter fans.

Apparently authors need to just learn to live with whatever we’ve published, and leave any regrets for journals or autobiographies published after we’re dead.

For indies, this offers advantages and benefits.

Advantage: So few people read our early books at first that we can often go in and fix them without anyone ever really knowing.

Disadvantage: We don’t have an experienced publishing team guiding us in the first place, especially pulling us back when we head straight for a cliff.

Then again, experienced publishing professionals can and do push pretty hard for what they think the market wants rather than what the author wants. They are often particularly interested in slotting us into just the slice of the market they think we have the best potential to claim, rather than allowing us to explore the questions that most interest us.

And if you ask me, that’s another good reason to go indie.

Mulling results from a Kindle Countdown Deal

One of the principles I follow as an independent publisher is that just about anything is worth trying.

When I first published, I discovered that offering The Awful Mess: A Love Story free through Kindle Select could pay off quite nicely in reviews and in residual sales that at least paid my advertising costs, although it was clearly not the magic bullet that it might once have been for indie publishers.

This time I tried the new Kindle Countdown Deal, supported with notices at affordable Awesome Romance Novels, free eReader Cafe, and (most expensively) at BookGorilla, as well as a notice at eBookSoda, which was thankfully free since I screwed that one up. (Turns out you have to do a separate Kindle Countdown Deal in the UK, and I didn’t realize that. And since eBookSoda is based in the UK, they went with my non-sale pricing.)

I would most certainly have used BookBub if I could have, but it wasn’t available to me (titles can only be there once every six months). I suspect my ranking would have been higher with it. Then again, it stayed so consistent throughout the promotion that it might be that I simply hit my title’s natural “level” and stayed there as long as Amazon’s promotion was in effect.

But even the first day, at 99 cents and with limited exposure, my book shot up in sales. It ranged between 1,800 to 2,500 in the Kindle store, which kept me on the first page of the bestseller lists for literary humor, literary romance, and women’s fiction humor.

This goes to show the importance of having useful key words, by the way. If you look at the shot on the right, you see that my book got highlighted as a hot new release in literature and fiction>humor and satire>humor — which helped drive further sales, I’m sure. (Mind you, the fact that I’m a “hot new release” was probably accidentally abetted by my new cover, which I didn’t realize would give this edition a new release date.) If my only key word had been romance (and no literary), I might not have shown up anywhere.

080078Changing a couple of keywords at mid-course didn’t seem to have any impact, though. (I switched from “divorce” to “dating and relationships” and from “New Hampshire” to “United States.”)

It’s also interesting to me that the “Love Story” in my subtitle no longer generates inclusion in searches for love stories. Perhaps Amazon got tired of all the keywords showing up in  titles and subtitles and has changed its algorithms to avoid rewarding that.

I had planned to do more, but the week with my parents in Florida had not allowed as much engagement with anything online as I’d hoped, and then I came down with a miserable cold, or perhaps the flu-shot version of the flu, and ended up barely functioning  for most of my countdown week.

A more prepared person certainly would have dovetailed more promotions into the middle and end of this deal to keep sales coasting along longer. They dropped off very fast at the conclusion of the deal; I’m seeing minimal residual sales now.

But I really can’t complain. It worked well while it was working. Amazon provides a pretty neat report on this strategy, too. Their useful report tells me I sold over 500 copies in my sale week, up from only a few the week before. (Beyond that, I also had a number of borrows.)

Although the book sales rate was about even, the income was much higher at the end for the 71 hours I was at $1.99, versus the earlier 96 hours at 99 cents. And I didn’t promote the second tier with any external marketing, so I have to assume that was primarily due to Amazon’s own Kindle Countdown Deal promoting, though I suppose my occasional tweets and kindly retweets from GreatBooksGreatDeals and Awesome Romance Novels (as well as fellow authors) might have helped.

Would it have worked as well if I’d gone out with $1.99 as my first sale price? I doubt it, but it’s impossible to know without testing.

It could be that the recent book giveaway I ran on Goodreads helped in some way, too, though I can’t say it helped to any great degree with book sales in its immediate aftermath. I did revise my giveaway ad there to support the Countdown Deal and got a few clicks. (Apparently the lifetime .05% click-through rate on my ads over there is considered good, but I can’t say I see that as driving any particular trend.)

One temptation from all this is to assume that dropping the price to $1.99 would make sense. Amazon of course prevents this by not allowing anyone to drop the price for 14 days after a Countdown Deal. But I’m also doubtful that it would help a lot. First of all, I’d be earning at a lower royalty rate (and maintaining your regular royalty rate is part of what makes Countdown Deals appealing). Second, I’ve tried lower pricing and haven’t really seen much pop from it. In fact, 99-cent pricing actually seemed to depress sales. Then again, I seem to do best in the humor and literary fiction categories, where price may signal something it doesn’t in, say, the romance category.

It might be worth trying $2.99, though.

I had been planning to leave Kindle Select at the end of my current enrollment period so I could get out to the other sites. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t expect to have my next title ready until summer, and I suspect that another round of a Countdown Deal, this time supported by BookBub, would be worth trying.

Other questions I’m currently mulling:

  • Should I enter the book in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards? It feels a little ass-backwards when I’ve already sold 1200 copies or so (not to mention given away 50,000). I particularly question this since the wording of the contest rules suggests I should enter the PG13 version rather than the one with the two sex scenes in it.
  • Should I just drop that PG13 edition? People looking for my book by my name or the book title often end up there, for some reason. It’s confusing, and confusion is not your friend when you’re trying to sell something. On the other hand, I’m also worried about what happens to the book purchased by the rare souls who have purchased the PG13 edition. Will it disappear from their Kindles?
  • What’s the best next move? Come out with an anthology of short stories I’m willing to sell super cheap (Missionary Dating and Other Not Terribly Literary Stories), or come out with the next novel? Or should I try another round with literary agents, now that I’ve established a little credibility out in the marketplace?

Who the heck knows? Meanwhile, I’m also busy trying to sell this house. So … life is full.

Feel free to offer your advice, and share any thoughts or experiences you might have had with Kindle Countdown Deals.

The fine art of twitter stalking

When I first tried Twitter — because it was one of those things all authors were supposed to do — I was instantly addicted. I enjoyed getting little tidbits of this and that. At first I was only following a few of my favorite bloggers and comedians and magazines and such, and it was easy to keep up. But as I followed more people and organizations, I began to realize:

  1. I have no hope of keeping up with this.
  2. This takes a lot of time.
  3. This isn’t selling any books.

So I started ignoring it for days at a time. But at some point I dipped back in and came across a post from Joel Friedlander – a man wise in the ways of indie publishing and generous about sharing his wisdom – in which he suggested that authors should build their Twitter networks not by following other authors, but by following people who describe themselves as avid readers.

And that works. A bit. Mind you, it’s laborious. I think of it as hand-selling. I’m doing well with it if one out of every twenty or thirty people I follow gets curious enough to check me out, and then also gets curious enough to buy or borrow my book — but that’s something. It’s enough to keep The Awful Mess: A Love Story from sinking into an utter abyss in the absence of any other marketing efforts.

Probably even more valuable than the sales, I’m building a list of fairly targeted followers. Although not very many people I follow immediately buy my book, a fair number of people do follow me back. Which means I can still talk to them. So there’s some potential there over the long term.

Of course, this strategy only works up to 2,000 or so follows, at which point Twitter decides you’re creepy or something and shuts you off.

When this figure neared for me, I signed up for an account at justunfollow.com. I’m personally not a fan of people’s daily tweets of how many followers and unfollowers they have, so I opted out of that, but I do occasionally tweet my own variation of their suggested tweets. It’s only fair to give this valuable free service some shout-outs now and then. (It’s not the only one available, either, so feel free to look around.)

Anyway, with this one, everyone gets 25 free unfollows a day. The occasional tweet on their behalf entitles you to fifty unfollows a day. And your non-followers are neatly organized with the oldest ones first.

So I go through that list and I clear out most people who haven’t followed me back, unless they happen to be particularly interesting.

I also tend to pretty quickly unfollow people who send me chirpy direct messages without following me back. I don’t mind being hit up with a marketing message, but a direct message suggests a willingness to interact, and I can’t DM back people who haven’t followed me. So that just seems rude. (First I’ll usually wait a week or so to see if they’ve just forgotten to pay any attention to their account.)

I do the same for most of the hapless folks who auto-DM me back to tell me they use TrueTwit validation. (DON’T use TrueTwit validation.)

And I will probably always follow more people than follow me, barring sudden fame (and I’m not holding my breath on that one). I find a lot of people interesting, and as I said before, I enjoy getting these little morsels of information.

Anyway, now that I’ve unfollowed enough to clear up space for more follows, I stalk writers whose work seems enough like mine that their readers might like my stuff, and I follow their followers — if they talk about being readers.

This isn’t all that easy, because most of the authors I idolize don’t have Twitter accounts, and Jane Austen, for example, has been dead way too long to be tweeting anybody, although she is associated with a surprising number of Twitter accounts. So I hunt for readers of women’s fiction and “smart chick lit,” or just about any Episcopalian who will admit to reading. Also, if anyone mentions being a Kindle addict, I’m on them like fat on bacon.

Of course, I’m late to this game, clearly, because other indie authors are in fact the majority of the followers of most published authors. I ignore them unless they speak of avid or voracious reading themselves or just seem to be an unusually kindred spirit. I usually ignore librarians and booksellers, too, because neither will have easy access to my book right now and will probably sniff at me in disdain. I also ignore people with locked accounts, people who haven’t tweeted in weeks, people whose politics and religious attitudes suggest they’d happily consign me to hell, and people who do nothing but tweet contests and marketing messages.

Along the way I’ve noticed that dark chocolate and red wine merit A LOT of mentions in women’s profiles. It’s actually quite fascinating to see how people from all over the world sum themselves up. (I’m stunned that I haven’t yet come across a single mention of long walks on the beach. It’s not really a hook-up oriented medium, apparently, or maybe I’m just looking at the wrong demographic for that.)

My next stage with Twitter will be organizing the people I follow into lists. I had no idea what that was until recently, and it makes so much sense. You can put the people you follow into categories, public or private, and then focus on that category only when you’re interested in it. Sounds like a good January project.

Do you have any Twitter tips, techniques, or pet peeves that you’d like to share?

Twitter Screenshot 2013-12-16 11.02.37