Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don't Surf Amazon in your Underwear. The Algorithm is Always Watching.

Blogging today at Paranormal Romantics. Here's the post:



Don’t worry. There’s no math. We won’t talk numbers because at the most basic level an algorithm is merely a set of rules used by a search engine to solve a problem. At a more advanced level, it’s code to tell how to sort and load product lists in response to a query. They’re not scary. You may even have used one today.  Every time you type a question or search an item on sites such as Google or Amazon it is the algorithm that supplies the answer, not some gnome living in the laptop. Google uses algorithms to scour websites for information. The Amazon algorithm does internal searches on its pages, but whether you’re looking for a vacation rental from one or a romance book from another, the basic process is the same. Using a programmed set of steps, a search engine retrieves results that the algorithm’s code says most closely matches the query.

Where did the Amazon algorithm come from?

Not some alternate dimension, but Palo Alto, California from an Amazon company called A9. The process to develop an algorithm starts by analyzing data in a catalog of information; in the case of Amazon, it’s the product description and keywords on the website. Descriptive text for every item is indexed, meaning scanned for certain words and phrases. The algorithm is also written to check past traffic patterns for you and others who searched for similar information to the query. It then ranks them and returns the results. As you type in keystroke after keystroke, the algorithm is already trying to determine what you want. This is why when you’re hunting for a fantasy, by the time you type in f-a-n-t, the drop down box appears with preliminary results and, son of gun, one of them is fantasy.

The better the algorithm understands the meaning of a query, the more able it is to retrieve accurate results. To that extent, algorithms examine the words and even the meaning behind those words. If a customer on Amazon types in the search box Texas barbecue, the algorithm first checks to see how many categories it can locate. It sees two; Texas and barbeque, and then works to bring up results that match both by scanning product descriptions. A well-written search algorithm is so strong it can even adapt to misspellings and offer suggestions for additional words. Amazon also keeps track of your buying habits so the algorithm can anticipate desires. This is why you get those helpful emails that start “Based on your recent visit, we thought you might like…” It tracks not only purchases, but also clicked items that caught your eye 

What does this mean for the Amazon sales rank?
The information Amazon uses to suggest products during a search is based on terms in product descriptions from the catalog. For books, that means the blurb next to the book cover and the key words, but those aren’t the only factors. The algorithm also checks sales rank and that’s more complicated because rankings are always done in relation to competitors in the same category. If a book’s sales rise, that knocks down others in the same category.  One rank goes up, books close to it in rank go down. Ranking is also related to purchase time. Recent sales boost a book’s rank, so does a temporary price drop but the effect quickly fades because the algorithm also favors steady sales over dramatic surges.

What about those dreaded reviews?
Reviews on Amazon only count in rank if from a verified sale. Gifting a book is nice, but only helps sales rank if the gift is redeemed within 24 hours. The algorithm also gives more weight to newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon purchasers, and reviews voted as helpful by other customers. Price has no effect on sales rank. Enrollment in KDP Select or Kindle Unlimited won’t confer any additional advantage. While books don’t receive an added boost in rank, downloads through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library are treated as sales. Pre-orders also count as immediate sales which is why publishers love them.

What’s the myth of high sales and rank?
High sales rank doesn’t guarantee high placement in search results. Surprisingly, sales rank isn’t the only determinant. Other factors include relevance, keywords, sales history, product description, and available inventory, so a book with high sales rank may appear later in search results than lower-ranked books. How can you help your book along? Techie experts offer the following advice.

  • Have a well-written description.


  • Use keywords in the book description, but not more than once because this can look like keyword stuffing. Amazon frowns upon the practice and you can get dropped in the ranks.


  • If a reader with a verified sale lets you know they liked the book, ask them to leave a review.



  • If you gift a book ask the recipient to retrieve it immediately or it won’t count in the sales rank. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Spotlight: Somewhere My Lady by Beth Trissel

Thanks for having me on your blog, Linda, to share my new release, Somewhere My Lady (Book 1, Ladies in Time). The meld of fantasy, history, and paranormal I include in time travels intrigues me. My fabulous Wild Rose Press editor, Nic D’Arienzo, has given me a free rein, and I enjoyed writing Somewhere My Lady.

Two things that most inspired me were Edith's Theme, the hauntingly beautiful song from the Crimson Peak soundtrack, and my love of old homes. I've lived in them most of my life, and visited plenty. I also love gardening and have sprawling beds filled with heirloom flowers and herbs. Some plants have been here for ages and our farm-house was built in the 1870's. Old homes exude an indefinable sense of place, and are never really empty. Perhaps the spirits of those who once dwelt there come back and visit, or leave a part of themselves behind. I don't know, but I like a good ghost story.

Harrison Hall, the colonial era home in Somewhere My Lady, is loosely based on Shirley Plantation, a magnificent 18th century home, built along the James River in Virginia. In the story, this wonderful manor sized house is a paranormal hot spot, concealing a deadly mystery Hart and Lorna must solve.

‘Somewhere My Lady is a fun supernatural romance that will have you slipping in and out of the past and future as if you were a spirit yourself.’’ ~Colleen’s Book Reviews

Story Blurb: 
Lorna Randolph is hired for the summer at Harrison Hall in Virginia, where Revolutionary-War reenactors provide guided tours of the elegant old home. She doesn't expect to receive a note and a kiss from the handsome young man who then vanishes into mist.

Harrison Hall itself has plans for Lorna – and for Hart Harrison, her momentary suitor and its 18th century heir. Past and present are bound by pledges of love, and modern science melds with old skills and history as Harrison Hall takes Lorna and Hart through time in a race to solve a mystery and save Hart's life before the Midsummer Ball.


Excerpt:

Something about him held her spellbound…the tilt of his head, arch of his brow, glimpse of his profile… She followed his every move with the fixity of an owl.

He turned blue-gray eyes toward her and sensuous lips curved into a smile on his handsome face. Hands down. No contest. He was the hottest guy ever. Her heart beat a thrilling new rhythm.

He circled closer to where she stood rooted in the foyer, not moving a toe, scarcely drawing breath. Did he truly see her backed tremulously against the wall, or did it only feel that way?

Unlike the others in the ghostly assembly, his eyes didn’t skirt past her. He paused in the dance. Bending at the shoulders, he tipped his hand to her in a genteel flourish.

He’d freakin’ bowed. Her jaw dropped. He most definitely saw her. And she sure as heck saw him.

A sparking sizzle jumped between them, awakening her as she’d never been roused before. Even more than when the house charged through her at her arrival. It was as if she were plugged in—to him.

How that could be, she had no idea, but when he gazed into her eyes, time seemed to stop. She spiraled into moonless stars, and back again to this dizzying realm. To him. Even if she were dreaming, she’d never forget this moment.

Somewhere My Lady is available from all major online booksellers. For Kindle click here: KINDLE


Author Bio: Married to my high school sweetheart, I live on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia surrounded by my human family and furbabies. An avid gardener, my love of herbs and heirloom plants figures into my work. The rich history of Virginia, the Native Americans, and the people who journeyed here from far beyond her borders are at the heart of my inspiration. I’m especially drawn to colonial America and the drama of the American Revolution. And I love a good ghost story. In addition to Young Adult and New Adult fantasy romance, I also write historical, time travel, and paranormal romance, plus nonfiction.


Author Links:
My Amazon Author Page where all my books reside:




Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Book Spotlight: Addicted to Love by Jennifer Wilck

Dan Rothberg struggled after an accident killed his wife and he nearly lost custody of his daughter. He can no longer allow himself to get attached to anything or anyone. Until he meets Hannah.

Hannah Cohen is a young executive with a meddlesome grandmother and a troubled brother. She’d like nothing better than to find her own Mr. Right, after too many Mr. Wrongs. A sexy older man with a teenage daughter was never in her plans.

As they navigate their relationship through adolescent attitudes and grandmotherly interference, they realize age is just a number and love can be right in front of them. But when the terrible truth of Dan’s former struggles is exposed, Hannah must decide if she can get past his deception and allow love to conquer all.


Excerpt
“What are we looking at?” She whispered out of the side of her mouth, pursing her lips together and giving him an insane urge to kiss them.

“What?”

“I assumed since we’re standing here you must be looking at something, and I wanted to join in the fun. Or did you not realize we weren’t moving?”

Her nostrils flared and she bit her lip, and Dan realized she was trying not to laugh. Now he really wanted to kiss her, to capture her mouth with his, to make her his own. Before he could act on it, his stomach growled.

“Was that yours or mine?” She looked over at him, eyebrow raised.

His lips twitched. His breath hitched. He couldn’t keep his amusement to himself any longer. It bubbled in his chest and he let it out as he shook his head.

“Okay, while I am older than you, I’m not old enough to be senile. Yet. So yes, I did know we weren’t moving. But thanks for that. And yes, my stomach growled, because I’m hungry. Except I think I need to put eating on hold for a moment, because what I need, more than anything else right now, what I’ve needed all night long in fact, is to kiss you.”

Author Bio
Jennifer started telling herself stories as a little girl when she couldn’t fall asleep at night. Her favorite stories to write are those with smart, sassy, independent heroines; handsome, strong and slightly vulnerable heroes; and her stories always end with happily ever after. In the real world, she’s the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men she knows. When she’s not writing, she loves to laugh with family and friends, is a pro at finding whatever her kids lost in plain sight, and spends way too much time closing doors that should never have been left open. She believes humor is the only way to get through the day and doesn’t share her chocolate. She writes contemporary romance, some of which are mainstream and some of which involve Jewish characters. All are available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Buy Links
Amazon  
Kobo 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Audiobooks Part 3: The 15 Minute Check

Once you select a narrator and have an accepted offer, the real work begins. The author sends the narrator the complete book manuscript, otherwise known as the script. I used the final Word version of the ebook minus the front and back matter. If you wish to make certain edits, do them before hitting Send.

The first file you receive from the narrator is the 15 minute check. When will you get it? Well that depends. The deadline is something you and the narrator agreed upon in the offer. Make sure to give the narrator enough time to put together a stellar read. I decided on one week and my narrator had no problem with that. The phrase 15 minute check is actually a misnomer as the narrator begins at the first page of the book and stops at a logical point roughly fifteen minutes later. For many books, mine included, this is the first chapter. Mine took a little over sixteen minutes.

Make sure you and the narrator are on track with pacing and flow. If you think the reading is too fast or slow, or didn’t quite capture the mood of a scene, say so now. Is any part confusing? If you have a dialog between two or more characters can you tell which one is speaking. Is the tone correct? Did a character who's supposed to be lightly teasing sound snarky and sarcastic instead? A few missed words in the script is no biggie. Simply note them down and the narrator can make corrections in the audio file. You’re not Steven Spielberg, so don’t pick apart each sentence. Remember, an audiobook is a collaborative process between two professionals. You want the narrator to bring his or her interpretation to your words. That’s why you hired a pro. But if a scene doesn’t work for you, state the reason clearly. Telling a narrator, “I need you to make this, you know, like better, you know, cause it’s like, you know, not right.” isn’t helpful. 

Next up in Part 4: Building the Book


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Audiobooks Part 2: Egad! I Have a Narrator.

Egad, I Have a Narrator. Now What?

I posted the audition to ACX. The first response came that evening and then one or two a day; some were okay, some were, let’s just say, not so okay. I even got a message from a woman who wanted to submit an audition, but had to finish another audiobook and wouldn’t be available for a few weeks. That cheered me. If she already worked on an audiobook, she couldn’t be awful. She wanted to know when the audition closed. Hmm. Hadn’t thought about that. I figured this would be a long process, so I said July 15. I looked for a way on ACX to post the audition date. Couldn’t find one. Stupid ACX.

Narrations continued to arrive. None of them grabbed me, but I was too unsure to hit the delete button. As I listened to more, the okay ones started to sound the same as if the narrators practiced together; the same tones, the same inflection, the same reading. I began to worry. Maybe the okay auditions were really great, but I couldn’t feel it because I wanted the impossible. When I write, the characters speak in my head as clearly as if they were real people. (Sometime clearer, but let’s not get into my mental health issues.) How can I expect anyone to capture what’s inside me?

Then I discovered a wonderful truth. I can’t, but the right narrator doesn’t need my voice. She has one of her own and can add something different, but equally good, to a book.  Less than a week after posting the audition I found Cass, a professional voice actor in California. Her reading was so far above the others, I had no doubt she was the one.

Next came the hard part. I had to reject the other narrators. Writers get plenty of rejections. If I printed out all the ones I received over the years I’d be able to wallpaper every room in my house with enough left over to whip up stylish curtains for the windows. It hurts a little less with a polite rejection because you can delude yourself someone actually read the submission. The worst is the black hole. You slave over a proposal or submission, email it, and then…nothing. The agent or publisher is too busy sipping their lattes to send a canned rejection. They don’t even bother to assign it to the unpaid intern. He’s busy polishing their shoes and wondering if it’s too late to apply for that salesclerk job at Old Navy. I’m sure actors get as many rejections as writers, so I determined all who submitted an audition would get an easy let-down with a kind, but encouraging email from me.

But first, the offer. If Cass didn’t accept, I was back to square one. I sent a message through ACX and told her how much I enjoyed the audition and an offer was coming. I also mentioned terms were negotiable, since I didn’t want a rejection over a minor issue. She was thrilled. I sent it through the ACX site; flat fee, but was fine with split royalties if she wanted to go that route. I also listed the deadline for the first fifteen minutes (the first chapter check), and then the final deadline.  She accepted immediately, no changes necessary. Whoo-hoo! I went back to the list of auditions to start the polite rejections.

Curse you, ACX!

As soon as an offer is accepted the site deletes the contact information for other auditioners. Nothing warned me ahead of time. My stomach hurt thinking about those poor people waiting in the black hole. Will ACX notify them I chose another? Will they do it kindly?

Note to narrators who auditioned for Rimrider:  Please don’t hate me. I intended to send a heartfelt message of thanks. Don’t let my rejection discourage you. Just because your narration style didn’t suit me, doesn’t mean it won’t suit another.

Fortunately, ACX only deleted those who actually auditioned, so I was still able to send a message to the nice woman who wanted to know the deadline. I explained that I expected to keep auditions opened to the 15th, but found a narrator right away. I wished her luck in future endeavors. She sent me a thank-you note.

Lessons Learned
  • The narrator doesn’t need to copy the author's idea of a character’s voice. A talented narrator will bring her own skill and interpretation and an author may even like her interpretation better. Shut up, voices in my head.


  • ACX needs work. Amazon owns the world. Can’t they spend a few extra bucks to hire some techs to get the bugs out of the system and make the site easier to use?


  • Offer a narrator both flat fee and split royalty for payment, but be prepared to pay. Voice actors like to eat, too, and I believe most want money up front. If I only offered split royalty, I’d still be waiting for a narrator.  




Next up in Part 3: The 15 minute Narration Check.