On the Inside, Looking Out: Furry in a Human Land

Guest post by KJ Kabza

Back when my schedule allowed, I enjoyed participating in the FWG chats every week. (Which you’ve tried and enjoyed too. Right?) Occasionally, a furry writer would mention that they hoped to someday sell one of their borderline-furry stories to a Regular Science Fiction or Fantasy Market.

Funny thing, that. Because I’ve been writing stories in the wider science fiction and fantasy field for 15 years, and I hope to someday sell one of my borderline-furry stories to a Definitely Furry Market.

Writing for furs versus the larger speculative fiction community can be very different experiences—so different that one switch-hitting author once told me, “You’d think that my furry fans would buy my non-furry work and vice versa, but that’s not the case at all.” When you have stories to tell that could fall in either camp, what’s the best way forward?

I’m sure your opinion gets colored by where you start. I find myself working in general SF and fantasy circles, but then again, I began selling my work well over a decade ago, when I barely even knew what furry was. Besides, when I started, some of my early work sold for one cent a word, which is comparable to what is considered professional rates for writers in the fur community today, 15 years later. And nowadays, when I can sell some pieces for what SFWA defines as professional rates (at least six cents a word), it seems hard to justify sending a borderline-furry story to a furry market that will give me a fraction of that pay.

On the downside, however, it took me many years to build my current network of other writers and editors. In contrast, I suspect that someone who starts off selling fiction in the smaller fur community will likely find it much easier to connect with fellow creators and fans and feel supported at every stage of their career. Sofawolf, one of the most prestigious publishers in the fur community, has a booth at Anthrocon, one of the most prestigious cons in the fandom, that’s staffed by friendly people who are happy to explain their submission process to you. I can’t imagine having the same conversations at a Penguin Random House booth at San Diego Comicon.

The best way forward is also colored by the degree of furriness in what you write. I doubt that Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine would be interested in an erotic love story about a kangaroo male model and a misunderstood muscle tiger, but those borderline-furry stories are definitely another matter. In 2013, I sold my story “The Color of Sand,” which features a single mother and a forgotten human civilization—but also talking sandcats and outright furry TF—to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Never say never.

If your motive is to write strictly for fun and not for profit at all, the considerations get even blurrier. I’ve written and posted fan fiction under other names, both on Fur Affinity (as a fur) and on Fanfiction.net (as a hopeless human weeb). Both experiences have been very positive, with far more feedback given to me than I’ve ever gotten from a general SF or fantasy piece published in any professional venue.

This month, my first print collection of short fiction, The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories, releases on January 16. It comes from the world of Regular Science Fiction and Fantasy, but you’ll find several of those borderline-furry stories within. A young man in a damaged family learns of his non-human heritage. A securities lawyer has a double identity as a cat-like being that can fly. And a race of talking sandcats reveals themselves to be powerful magicians to a mother in need.

I suspect that Ramshead will be interpreted and accepted as a not-furry book among the not-furry crowd, the same way some of its component stories have been accepted. However, my next project, a novel I’m going to finish drafting after Ramshead launches, can’t be interpreted that way. That project is unambiguously furry, to the point where I’ve had to explain it to general SF fans as, “Redwall, but with pre-literate, non-Western cultures.” I’ve told so many other stories in the borderline-furry category, I want to see what it’s like to take the plunge.

I’m not sure about Penguin Random House, but maybe Sofawolf would like it.

KJ Kabza has sold over 70 stories to venues such as F&SF, Nature, Strange Horizons, and more. His debut print collection, The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories, is available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Guest post from Kyell Gold: “Deciding which scenes to keep”

When you write a first draft, you shouldn’t be thinking about scene-level editing. There are times when you might think, “oh, I want to write this scene but I probably won’t use it,” but go ahead and write it. At the worst, it’s an exercise in writing. It might reveal something about your character that doesn’t come up elsewhere, but that you’ll know. At best, you might find a place for it in the story and it might add new depth.

But how do you know? You won’t know until you know what your story’s about, what the character journey is and what you want to convey to the reader. Then every scene in your story should advance character or plot (ideally both). In science fiction and fantasy (and furry stories sometimes) you can get away with a scene that is mostly worldbuilding, but it’s best to work the worldbuilding into plot or character advancement.

A great way to figure this out is to summarize each of your scenes in a sentence: “Lee discusses his future job prospects with his former boss.” Then figure out how each of the scenes connects to the others. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park use that method, and they say that in every case, the word connecting your scenes should be either “therefore” or “but.” If you can only connect the scenes with “and then,” that means that the previous scene isn’t flowing into the next one, and you’re going to lose some of the story’s energy.

For example:

“Lee discusses his future job prospects with his former boss.”


“Lee contacts some people but gets a lot of rejections.”


“Lee goes to see his boyfriend to cheer himself up.”


“Lee’s boyfriend is unsympathetic because he’s preoccupied with his own problems.”

Those scenes all flow nicely into each other and connect well. You can then look at the overall theme: is this story about Lee’s job or his relationship? If it’s more about the job, then maybe going back to his boyfriend and going down that road isn’t the right way to go; it’s putting too much weight on the boyfriend. At that point maybe you’d want Lee to talk to another co-worker instead, or maybe visit something else related to his job. Maybe you could have him discover that he has worth beyond his job, or find another way to do his job. Whatever your story’s about, every scene should play into that somehow.

So how do you decide whether the scene is important to the character or the plot? Well, every scene should start with your character wanting something, having a goal that’s important either to the plot or to the character development. At the end of the scene, the reader should know if they reached that goal or not. For example, in the above scenes, Lee wants to get a new job. So in the first scene, he gets some contacts from his former boss. In the second, he wants interviews, so he calls a bunch of people, but doesn’t get any interviews. In the third, he wants to feel better about himself, so he goes to look for external validation from his boyfriend. Now, you can look at the wants in those scenes and say, “Is this the way I want the story to go?” For example, if we want the story to be more about Lee’s relationship to his job rather than his boyfriend, we could say, “wanting validation from his boyfriend isn’t important to the story I’m telling right now.”

(It’s also possible to have multiple storylines going on, and so a scene might follow directly from one a few scenes ago. That’s okay as long as each scene has one of those causal relationships to a previous scene. Readers can keep multiple stories in their head, but cluttered stories with scenes that go nowhere make it harder to care about them.)

Ideally you want all your scenes to advance both the plot and the character journey. In the above example, you might decide that actually showing Lee getting a bunch of rejections isn’t necessary to the plot. Then you could skip directly from the conversation with his former boss to going to visit his boyfriend, and drop the information about the rejections into his conversation. “Well, my boss gave me three names and I’ve got three rejections. How was your day?” (for example).

Or you might use the rejections to show Lee’s shift in mood, where he starts the first one happy and upbeat and has gotten beaten down by the last one. This could explain why he’s more snappy than usual when he visits his boyfriend. Maybe one of the people he calls says something prejudiced about foxes that sets him on edge. You have to decide what is most important to the character and the story.

Editing isn’t an easy process, and often you’ll find yourself having to toss out scenes you like a lot. Post them on your site as a deleted scene and explain why you cut them, or just keep them for future reference on your drive. It’s important that they not remain in your story if they’re getting in the way of the story, though. I will say that in general you should err on the side of cutting out scenes, because you are already biased toward keeping all your precious words. Also, your beta readers (beta readers are very important) are much more likely to tell you that something is missing and needs to be added back in than that a scene is unnecessary and needs to be cut.

So examine each scene, ask what it does to advance your plot and character, and if the answer is “not much,” consider cutting the scene and delivering whatever information it provides within another scene. This might be very hard at first, but the more you do it, the more you’ll find your stories are engaging from beginning to end, packed only with scenes that make the reader want to go on to the next one.

An earlier version of this column appeared in Kyell’s April 2016 newsletter.

Guest post: “The Critique Masochist” by Frances Pauli

The Critique Masochist

by Frances Pauli


As an art school veteran, I am no stranger to criticism. When I create something, I not only expect critique, I immediately crave it. Critique is necessary, it’s useful, it is required. And the more brutal the better. In essence, I have become a critique masochist. How could this have happened? Let me explain.

Art majors at the college level spend their week something like this… Monday through Thursday are filled with studio classes–three hour sessions of drawing and/or painting in the classroom. Sometimes, it’s a clever arrangement of old knickknacks, vases, and Styrofoam balls and sometimes an assortment of nude models which is not nearly as exciting as you might imagine when you’re trying to get the lines right.

Friday, however, is critique day. On Friday, you gather your week’s work, tack it to a wall, and wait for the guns to start firing at you. You learn to love Fridays or you aren’t going to be in art school very long. Freshmen feared the week’s end. Those with tenuous egos invented reasons to be ill on Friday. You could try to dodge, but no matter how clever you were, eventually, it was your work on the wall.

There were only two rules in a peer critique and they are very good ones. First, you must remain absolutely silent while your work is being trashed–er, examined. Second, a critic may not say “I like it” or “I don’t like it” unless the statement is immediately followed by a detailed explanation of “WHY”.

Fridays were fun days in the school of art. If someone wasn’t crying in the halls between classes, it wasn’t Friday. I’m serious. People fled critique day, people sobbed. Some stomped straight to administration and switched majors. But, no matter how you look at it, Friday was a good day. It was Friday that turned me into a critique masochist.

So, back to writing…and critique. Critique is a good thing. It is the single most vital tool to becoming the best at any creative endeavor. We cannot be our own critic. We can try, and please do try. It’s required, you HAVE to learn to look at your work objectively. On the flip side, you will never, ever be as objective as your reader in Connecticut who’s never met you. Seek out the guns. Please. As you do, remember a few things to nurse a happy relationship with criticism. It will find you eventually anyway. If not before publication, then after.

DETACH: Your work may be your baby, but it’s not your baby. Any discussion of your work is not a personal attack. It is not your job to protect it. It is your job to let it be ripped to shreds and reassembled into something better, and golden, and closer to perfect.

EGO AWAY: Put it in a box, lock it in its room, whatever. Your ego will be needed later (when the rejections roll in and make you want to quit) but while receiving and giving criticism, it’s dead weight and will only botch up the whole process.

LISTEN: With both ears and the whole mind. Listen and consider the slim possibility that the critic may be right. Don’t waste time disagreeing or mentally arguing, listen. Listen and pretend they’re a genius–just for now.

SALT: When you have listened, considered and absorbed, THEN remember the grain of salt. This is an opinion–one person’s opinion or a whole class’ opinion, but still an opinion. Do you agree with it? Try. If not, stick to your guns and trust that you know your own goals. Don’t ever think that a suggestion is a rule, that you must change and adapt to every criticism or you will never stop fixing and changing things back and forth. Do change what you agree with. Do give serious thought to any suggestion that comes up more than once, or over and over again from different sources. But in the end, you decide.

Remember the two rules–they are good ones. Don’t interrupt. Never argue during the critique. If anyone ever says, “I like it” or “I don’t like it” insist on a detailed “why.” Embrace the horror–that is, the process– and learn to love it. Laugh at your mistakes and yourself often. Eventually, you might find yourself craving it, needing it. Personally, I’m suspicious of anyone who reads my work and doesn’t pick it apart, at least a little. Don’t trust the “I loved it” or the “It’s great” without further discussion! With a little practice, you too can be a critique masochist.


This post first appeared on Speculative Friction.

Guest post: “RAWR: Year One Review” by Skunkbomb

RAWR: Year One Review

by Skunkbomb


Earlier this year, I paid to stay up late critiquing roughly 1,500 words a night from talented writers while teetering toward a panic attack as I wrote my first sex scene. I loved every minute of it.

rawr logoThis was the first year of the Regional Anthropomorphic Writers’ Retreat (RAWR) led by Kyell Gold (Out of Position, Green Fairy) with associate instructor Ryan Campbell (God of Clay, Koa of the Drowned Kingdom) and facilitated by Chandra al-Alkani. After an icebreaker dinner, the next five days would begin with lectures from Kyell, Ryan, Watts Martin (Why Coyotes Howl, Indigo Rain) and Jeff Eddy of Sofawolf Press. They covered world building, setting, character, structure, and publishing while some of the attendees were still drinking coffee in their pajamas. It was helpful advice to keep in mind as we moved into critiques.

Critiques swallowed up most of my time at the retreat whether I was critiquing the work of my peers or writing notes on the feedback the other writers provided for my stories. Listening to the other writers point out what’s working and what isn’t in my stories was both intimidating and exhilarating, but that may be my inner masochist (that explains why I applied for this retreat). Despite my fears, getting that feedback was invaluable. Not only could I trust the other writers to give me honest feedback, they always had something positive to say. Above all, RAWR is all about helping writers grow.

Each writer got two critique sessions. Some of us edited the first story and submitted it to be critiqued a second time after revisions. Some of us had two different stories to be critiqued. One of us even submitted a long story in two parts. I went with option two after I told Kyell about the second story I was working on and he encouraged me to submit it despite not being halfway done with the first draft. If you ever need a kick in the pants to finish a story, having a deadline due in less than 24 hours works wonders. There are times when I want to procrastinate, but being in such an environment got me to work on more writing than I’d done in a month.

One of the highlights of the retreat was the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Kyell and Ryan to ask them anything I wanted. I brought a paper with questions to mask the fact I was essentially word vomiting whatever came to mind. This ranged from serious discussion of my writing (How often should I put out new writing to grow my audience?) to the self-indulging (What tips do you have about writing anthro skunks?)

It wasn’t all work. We’d eat together at the private residence where the workshop was held … while finishing a draft before the submission deadline for critiques. We’d watched movies … while critiquing stories. Okay, so work bled into our downtime, but at least we weren’t bringing our laptops to restaurants when we ate out.

By the time the final day of the retreat arrived, I didn’t have peers. I had friends who I would root for whenever they submit work for publication. I had a renewed resolve not only to improve my writing, but also give back to the furry community. This was one of the most exhausting five days of my life that I wouldn’t trade for a spot on the bestseller list.

Guest post: “Setting Effective Writing Goals” by Renee Carter Hall

Setting Effective Writing Goals

by Renee Carter Hall


For many of us, a new year brings a feeling of a fresh start — a blank slate ready for new habits, new goals, and new accomplishments to celebrate. But after the novelty wears off and all the responsibilities, obligations, and distractions of day-to-day life rush back in, it’s easy for writing to get pushed back to the bottom of the to-do list. Here are a few tips to help you set goals that won’t set you up for disappointment.

1. Consider what you really want. That may sound obvious, but it’s easy to accept other people’s ideas of goals instead of your own. Do you want to write the first draft of a novel to challenge yourself, or because everyone else in your writing group is working on a novel instead of short stories? Consider, also, whether you want to set goals that deal with process (“write 3000 words a week,” “write for 1 hour every weekday”), goals that deal with projects (“finish 2 short stories a month,” “finish the first draft of my novel”), or a mixture of both.

2. Choose goals that are under your control. You might want the end result to be “find an agent” or “get a short story accepted to Magazine X,” but you can’t control whether agents or editors accept or reject your work. Instead, consider goals that are based on your own actions, like “query 10 agents” or “send at least 1 submission to Magazine X.”

3. Find the balance between challenge and realism. Some writers like the challenge of setting big goals and pushing themselves to achieve them; others would rather set the bar lower, get the confidence boost from achieving a smaller goal, and build from there. Consider your personality, your experience level, and your situation, and decide what’s right for you.

4. Write it down. Whether it’s in a private journal or posted online, a written list gives you a visual reminder to focus on — plus the fun of checking off your accomplishments. If it motivates you to share your goals with others, feel free; if not, keep it private.

5. Check in. Once a week, once a month — on whatever schedule works for you, glance over your goals and re-evaluate them. What steps you can take now to work toward each goal? Which ones have been accomplished? You may find that some goals are no longer relevant to you or may need to be reworked, and you might find others to add.

6. Celebrate accomplishments large and small. It’s easy to get disappointed by the goals that don’t get checked off, but try to keep the focus on what you do achieve. Celebrate your progress along the way, no matter how small that progress may seem, and reward yourself with something you love — an hour with the newest video game, the latest book from your favorite author, or a decadent dessert. (Just don’t derail any goals you might have for your health!)

I hope these tips help you make 2016 your most successful writing year yet. What are your goals — writing or otherwise — for 2016? Feel free to share them in the comments!


Guest post: “A Conversation with Fred Patten” by Phil Geusz

A Conversation with Fred Patten

by Phil Geusz

Tomorrow, December 11, 2015, Fred Patten will celebrate his 75th birthday. If you don’t already know who Fred is and why it’s important that the fandom (and especially the FWG!) should honor him, well… Perhaps the best way to learn more about who Fred is and what he’s done for us both as furries and as authors would be to read on.


1) You’re often credited as being among the handful of founders of the furry fandom. Can you give us an idea of what it was like, who else you personally knew that was involved, and generally tell us how it all came together?

I remember attending the 1980 Worldcon as a regular s-f fan, one of several from the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. I was particularly close with Mark Merlino at the time; we had recently created the C/FO and “invented anime fandom”. One of the favorites of both Merlino & I was Kimba the White Lion, though most of the other early anime fans preferred the giant robot cartoons. At the 1980 Worldcon, Merlino & I and Nicolai Shapero were intrigued by a painting in the Art Show of a cat-woman in a military flight suit standing next to a realistic futuristic fighter plane. The artist was nearby and introduced himself as Steve Gallacci, a USAF technical illustrator. The painting was a standalone illustration from a series that he’d had in mind for years, about a star system of artificially-evolved animal peoples who had forgotten their past and rediscovered it during a space war between the cat and rabbit nations. He had a manila folder full of rough notes in cartoon form that he offered to show us. We didn’t just glance at it; we studied it in detail. At the convention’s Art Auction all three of us got into a bidding war for that painting. None of us got it; I don’t know who did.

I don’t know who else joined the “Gallacci group” to look at his notes at the 1980 Worldcon, but Tim Fay and John Cawley were early members. Gallacci was just getting out of the USAF; he settled in Seattle, and came to most of the s-f and comics conventions on the West Coast during the 1980s. We used to gather around Gallacci at these conventions to see his latest addition to his notes, and the group gradually grew. Many of us were cartoonists, and traded sketches in the ever-present Black Sketchbooks. During conversations with each other, we discovered that we all particularly liked the stories that featured intelligent animals and animal-like aliens; Watership Down and Animal Farm, Kimba the White Lion and Bambi, and so on. During 1982 Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH came out and was a big topic of discussion.

As a separate matter, Vootie, the fanzine of the Funny Animal Liberation Front started in 1977. I had tried to join, but was turned down because I wasn’t a cartoonist. It was an APA for comic-book fans who didn’t like costumed superheroes and could draw. One of its members was Marc Schirmeister in L.A. During 1981 and 1982 it became obvious that Vootie was dying because of apathy among its organizers. Schirm tried to keep it going but he failed; the last Vootie was in February 1983. Schirm then organized Rowrbrazzle as its replacement, but he made an interest in funny animals rather than an ability to draw cartoons as the criterion for membership. I could write about them so I was accepted, as were several members of the Gallacci group, ex-Vootie members, and others who could draw funny animals; some friends of members. Schirm went on a recruiting drive among the 1983-84 Cal Arts students and made several of them Rowrbrazzle members whether they wanted to be or not. Most of them never contributed; Bruce Timm provided a “Duck Savage” drawing that he’d already done.

Rowrbrazzle #1 appeared in February 1984. By that time, early furry fandom was dividing between those who were in Rowrbrazzle and contributing to its quarterly issues, and those who gathered at conventions who were organized more by Mark Merlino & Rod O’Riley. Gallacci was concentrating on finalizing his story into publishable form as the comic book Albedo. The members of Rowrbrazzle #1 were Marc Schirmeister the Official Editor, Greg Bear, Jerry Beck, John Cawley, Dave Bennett, Jerry Collins, Tim Fay, Jim Groat, Richard Konkle, Brett Koth, Steve Martin, Bruce Timm, Ken Sample, Taral Wayne, Deal Whitley, Colleen Winters, and me. Some like Bruce Timm weren’t interested in furry fandom and dropped out right away. Jerry Beck got interested in animation. Deal Whitley was as active in furry fandom as his health would permit, until he became the first furry fan who died. John Cawley shifted over to Merlino’s group which evolved to putting on parties at conventions. Merlino’s Furry Parties, advertised on flyers throughout the convention, were responsible for the fandom coming to be called furry fandom. Other early furry fans were Roz Gibson, Mike Kazaleh, Stan Sakai, Tracy Horton who married Mike Kazaleh, Edd Vick, Diana Vick (no relation), Monika Livingston, and Kjartan Arnorsson. Merlino & O’Riley expanded the Furry Parties at s-f & comics conventions into the first furry conventions, the ConFurences, in 1989.

One of the early discussion topics in Rowrbrazzle was what was happening in the fandom. This is why I say that Rowrbrazzle wasn’t responsible for furry fandom, but it does prove that furry fandom existed by 1984. It was more than the Vootie membership and the Gallacci groups at conventions.


2) You’re also credited in a similar way with the founding of the anime and My Little Pony” fandoms. Have you any comments on how they came to be and your role in the matter? And… Just how did it come to pass that you’ve been at center of so many important cultural movements?

I may have co-founded furry fandom and anime fandom, but I’ve never watched My Little Pony. You can’t blame that on me.

I joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1960, which meets every Thursday evening, and I was an active s-f fan from 1960 until I had my stroke in 2005. I credit many of the LASFS members of the 1960s through the 2000s with helping me get established as an active fan who was on s-f convention committees, helped organize s-f theater parties, etc. I attended some of the first meetings of mystery fandom and Oz fandom, but I never became a leader in those. I was active early in comics fandom — I had an article on Mexican comic book superheroes in Alter Ego, one of the first comics fanzines, in 1965 — but I was not very interested in the costumed superheroes that most comics fans concentrated on. That’s why my interest ran more to the funny animals, the French bandes dessinées, and later the Japanese manga. I’ve always had a habit of volunteering, usually as a Secretary. When anime fandom and later furry fandom began to coalesce, I used my experience from the LASFS in organizing anime and furry clubs that wouldn’t fall apart in a few months.


3) All of the fandoms you’re involved in can in at least some fairness be described as a bit geeky”. (Keep in mind that I’m saying this as a proud, card-carrying geek myself.) Do you consider yourself a bit of a geek? Do you have any observations or comments on geekdom in general?

Yes, I’m a geek and proud of it. I was never interested in the social life of high school or college. I’m a lifelong bachelor. My mother wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer or something prestigious, but I’ve always liked books and became a librarian. I became nervous about what would happen to me when I graduated from college, and I joined a fraternity to force myself into a social life, but I hated it. When I discovered s-f fandom, they were my kind of people.


4) You’re a bibliophile and book-reviewer of note. About how many reviews do you suppose you’ve written over the years? Care to share some happy memories of the very finest or otherwise outstanding works you’ve read or reviewed?

I’ve probably written over a thousand reviews of furry books alone. Probably over 2,000 all told. My earliest review was of an arguably furry book; H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, in a 1962 fanzine. I’m depressed to read today a list in ISFDB of the reviews that I wrote in the 1970s; I don’t remember many of the books at all, much less what I said about them. From 1975 to 1977, I was the publisher, co-editor, and a major reviewer for Delap’s F&SF Review, a monthly s-f reviewzine; about 28 regular issues. Richard Delap & I argued about the direction that it should take, and he “fired” me to edit & publish it himself. It only lasted two more issues.

The review that I remember best was of Stephen King’s The Shining. I said that it was a very suspenseful horror novel, but there were several of what seemed like buildups to horror subclimaxes that were aborted and didn’t go anywhere. I got a letter from King saying that was all his editor’s fault. His original manuscript had been twice as long, and all those buildups had led to horror scenes that the editor had edited out; like the ominous firehose on a wall of the hotel that had attacked the boy before the scene had been cut.

Another is of Forest Wars by Graham Diamond; a truly awful novel that I had fun tearing apart. It had a vast empire that it took a man on horseback three whole days to gallop across. Since a galloping horse can only cover about 20 miles a day, that’s about 60 or 70 miles across. Some vast empire. Retreating farmers cut down their fields of grain rather than leaving it for slavering hordes of wild dogs to eat. Were the dogs expected to harvest the grain and bake it into bread for themselves?

Continue reading “Guest post: “A Conversation with Fred Patten” by Phil Geusz”

Guest post: “Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors – Part 4: Twitter” by Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort

Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors: Part 4



This week, we’re once again looking at major advertising channels I’ve used in promotion of my webserial “From Winter’s Ashes“, and analyzing them one by one for the ROI and needs of an author and publisher. Today’s focus is one of a kind, with 316 million active users, Twitter!

The first thing out of the gate that I REALLY liked about advertising with Twitter was the very comprehensible targeting. Of course you had your usual demographics analysis, but there was some spectacular other options, like: “Advertise to your followers” and “Advertise to the followers of the people you list here”, the latter option was FANTASTIC for targeting. If you know the twitter handles of, say, five or ten authors who write things like you do, targeting their followers means that you’re probably planting on fertile ground.

The next thing that I liked was that Twitter encouraged you to have more than one tweet as an advertisement. If you want a great experiment in honing your pitches to 140 characters and below, this is a fantastic exercise. I created four tweets that advertised the story, and saw some very different response rates from each of them, which I’ll detail further down this article.

We’ll begin this week with the raw statistics, this time provided in a big beautiful infographic here: http://i.imgur.com/0W9Abfz.png
Budget: $35.00
Days: 7 ($5.00/day)
Impressions: 43,800
Clicks: 27 / 92* –> 27 clicks directly through to site. Retweets, favorites, or clicking on the “WebCard” of From Winter’s Ashes resulted in upping that total to 92 interactions.
CTR: 0.06% / Engagement Rate: 0.22%
CPC: $1.30


Overall, $35.00 bought me 43.8k impressions, with (27/92)* clicks. Why the asterisk? 27 of those clicks were directly to the site, while the total of 92 included people who went to my Twitter, clicked on the website card, favorited, or retweeted. Twitter does some pretty good granularity that way, but they don’t always explain it well.

Overall click-through rate: 0.06%. Devastatingly low. This is one-fifth the rate that Reddit offered me. On the upside, I served a lot of impressions, but overall it’s clear that on Twitter, people generally don’t want to click ads, even less so than they want to on other sites.

Engagement rate: 0.22%. Not terrible, here, when we factor in people engaging with the tweet or otherwise interacting with it. As we’ve covered in prior entries, 0.2-0.4% is the average you’ll find most non-targeted advertisement fall into. The fact though that this was targeted advertisement, is another black mark on Twitter for adverts.

And finally, our almighty Cost-per-click: $1.30. Pricey. I’m paying Facebook cost-per-clicks for a response rate that’s considerably lower. The impression rate is pretty awesome, which is nice for building brand awareness, but overall if people aren’t clicking, they aren’t buying.

I wouldn’t use Twitter again unless my goal was new brand establishment, or to bring in a wave of new eyes and awareness on a story product.


By the tweet:

So this was a part of Twitter advertising that was really, really valuable for me. Finding out which tweet I wrote had the most engagement, and drew the most interested eyes to the story.

My top performer, at 0.25% engagement rate: “Does the necromancer who butchered her husband and son deserve a Detective’s justice, or a mother’s revenge?”

In retrospect, it’s an obvious choice. It’s powerful, engaging, leaves the reader with a compelling question, and people clicked through a little more there than any other one. As a result, I’ve included the line in other marketing and synopsis of the story since.

Tied for 2nd place, at 0.22%:

“Heather Blackthorne once hunted down necromancers, until one hunted down her family. Now he’s come hunting for far more.”
“From Winter’s Ashes – A Detective with nothing left to lose, against a Necromancer with the world to gain.”

And my last-place finisher, in 4th, at 0.19%:

“In a world where everyone possesses magic, a Detective seeks justice on the Necromancer that butchered her family.”



In conclusion:

Twitter, at this expense level per engagement, is probably prohibitively expensive for a webserial’s conversion rates. The ability to finely target other authors followers is very nice, but is countered by the fact that Twitter users are particularly ill-inclined to engage with advertisement there.

The only uses Twitter will have for a webserial’s and publishers economics may be starting up a new brand/story, getting people interested in a new book or e-book release, and generally getting your brand name out there. If so, I would recommend including your name in the tweet, so that even if the title doesn’t stick, your name hopefully does.

I won’t use Twitter again for From Winter’s Ashes, I think, but if nothing else, the $35.00 spent was valuable to see, in stark statistical payout, what one-line summaries of the story were more effective at hooking people.

Guest post: “Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors – Part 3: Facebook” by Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort

Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors: Part 3


For the next few parts, we’re going to look at major advertising channels I’ve used for my webserial “From Winter’s Ashes” and analyze them one by one for the ROI and needs of an author and publisher. Today’s focus is one of the busiest sites in the world, Facebook!
Facebook advertising is extremely cagey about presenting its stats in a standard advertising way, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in me. However, the response results weren’t terrible:
My response rate was 32 interactions out of 1055 impressions, which translates into 3% CTR. Compared to Reddit and Google, there’s definitely a LOT more engagement per impression. 
Almost 90% of those engagements came from Mobile users, which means that if you’re going to use Facebook for a webserial or author’s, make *absolutely* sure that your site works well on mobile devices. Mobile devices are taking the internet by storm, make absolutely sure your website is presentable to them in mobile format.
User demographics were particularly revealing:
261 Impressions
$1.19 Cost per Like
$5.95 Total Spent
242 Impressions
$2.18 Cost per Like
$6.55 Total Spent
263 Impressions
$1.04 Cost per Like
$7.26 Total Spent
168 Impressions
$0.93 Cost per Like
$8.34 Total Spent
121 Impressions
$0.86 Cost per Like
$6.86 Total Spent
Gender Breakdown:
709 Impressions 
Cost per page like: $1.09 
Engagement 3.1%
336 Impressions 
Cost per page like: $1.08 
Engagement 2.9%
Country Breakdown:
Canada: 1 Like, 134 Impressions
United Kingdom: 3 Likes, 257 Impressions
United States: 28 Likes, 665 Impressions
Device Breakdown:
All 32 engagements were on mobile devices. No Likes at all occurred on PCs. 
25 of the 32 likes came from Android smartphones.


The numbers provided are of a limited and low-confidence sample base. As such, some interesting artifacts of data are easy to dismiss as error bars, while other insights provide reliable feedback on the performance of Facebook ads.

The biggest surprise to me was the gender disparity in engagement on Facebook. More than twice as many women as men are clicking on From Winter’s Ashes, despite the advertisement being deliberately as gender-neutral as possible. Facebook simply engages women much more than men.

Age of engagement wasn’t as surprising: Facebook appeals to an older demographic, and that shows. While they’re more likely to have disposable income, they are less likely to engage in modern payment methods, such as PayPal and Patreon. Of the 32 Likes, only two resulted in conversions to Patreon clicks. None of them became Patrons.

Of greater value in this advertisement, if not financially, was that 32 people with Likes on Facebook are 32 people who see each update notice posted to Facebook. (Ideally. As some have noted, Facebook is notoriously bad for playing silly buggers with this.)

Demographically, specific to the story itself, engagement was especially high with Christian women of color ages 40-65, with notable spikes in engagement in Alabama and Ohio. Facebook gives you some incredibly in-depth analysis of your advertisement successes. They know a LOT about you, and they’re not shy about sharing it (in aggregate).

Monetarily, the higher expense of a Facebook Like will only trade off if you’re using Facebook effectively to engage your audience. Your content will definitely matter; Facebook demographics overall are skewed towards women ages 35+. If you believe your content would appeal to that demographic, Facebook might work for you.

Overall, I’m not sure that Facebook’s high cost-per-engagement is a fit for From Winter’s Ashes, or most webserials. I’m wondering if most of my readers are, in fact, engaging the story with mobile devices. (If so, then designing for mobile presentation is critical.) The CPC is, of course, miles and miles too high for the business model of most publishing sites. But it’s a great way to get repeat engagements with customers down the line. I could see Facebook working if you’re already an established author with multiple titles for sale and more in the pipeline.


Guest post: “Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors – Part 2: Reddit” by Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort

Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors: Part 2



For the next few parts, we’re going to look at major advertising channels I’ve used for my webserial “From Winter’s Ashes” and analyzing them one by one for the ROI and needs of an author and publisher. Today’s focus is the popular web 2.0 social/news aggregator, Reddit!
Advertising on Reddit:

Here’s what my marketing campaign on “From Winter’s Ashes” looks like on Reddit right now. I’m currently advertising in /r/Fantasy, and I’m at 89% of the campaign budget’s run as of today. I decided to see what gambling a modest $10.00 would look like advertising this way, and here’s my results.

Budget: $10.00 (the minimum)
Impressions Purchased: 10,000
CPM: (Cost per thousand impressions): $1.00
Impressions Delivered: (to date) 8890
Clicks: 17
CTR: 0.191%
CPC: $0.52
Analysis: The click-through rate of this advertising campaign is mildly disappointing, call it a C grade. More concerning, however, is the CPC. 
While $0.52 is, in fact, a very reasonable CPC for most advertising? I have to compare that against the performance of my website:
Conversion rate 0.02% (abysmal), average income per conversion $1.00. (That’s one conversion in 1823 unique visitors.)
I’d need a CPC of only $0.00055 right now just to break even. One THOUSAND times better performance just to break even.
If, however, I could add an ebook onto my website for sale, and turn that conversion rate to 2% and an average income of conversion of $4.85? My CPC break-even bar becomes $0.097. So anything below a $0.10 CPC and I’d be breaking even, really.  
What if I really went snazzy with my site, though, and brought it up to the standard like Tor.com or Amazon.com enjoyed, of 10% conversion rate, at the same cost? Then, and only then, would the CPC I’m paying begin to make sense, at a per-conversion income of $4.85 off of a $6.00 sale.
Thus, Reddit advertising is far too expensive for my current business, from an ROI standpoint. 
However, there are some nice advantages to Reddit advertising:
1. The CPC is very reasonable, and I can target my advertising to a particular subreddit, allowing me to target users in a meaningful way based on their interests.
2. The advertisement includes a little bit of graphical space, and is presented top-center on the page, which makes it hard to miss or ignore.
3. Interactivity. People can comment directly on your advertisements and engage you, as an author. Handy for starting conversations that convert the curious into the committed.
1. The AdBlock rate on Reddit is much higher than the general internet, with the average block rate being 55%, with some subreddits seeing 85-90%(!) of ads blocked.
2. Lead-in time. Unlike other websites, Reddit inventories advertisements by the subreddit. I had to wait 23 days until my advertisement began to show. Unless you’re planning well in advance of your event, Reddit might not fit well for your marketing plan.

Guest post: “Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors – Part 1” by Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort

Advertising Statistics and ROI for Authors: Part 1

In a past career and under current contracts, I’m responsible for the advertising analysis of clients and customers. As a small business owner and operator, making sure that my dollars spent pay back in sales is critical for me. In this series, I’m going to dissect and analyze my paid advertising efforts for my current webserial, From Winter’s Ashes.
I advertised the WebSerial through three major channels of online targeted advertising: 
Reddit – 170 million users, offers targeted advertising by subreddit. In this case, /r/Fantasy with a user base of 83,750 readers, with a peak daily readership of ~1300.
Facebook – 1.5 billion users, 1.1 billion active users.
Twitter: 316 million active users.
My methodology on this analysis involved making minimum advertising commitments to each advertising channel. Each represents the minimum financial commitment through advertising on that channel:
Reddit: $10, for a month-long campaign on modestly populated subreddit.
Facebook: $35, at $5/day for a week. 
Twitter: $35, at $5/day for a week.

Understanding your key metrics for advertising your writing and determining the cost effectiveness:
1. Impressions. How many times was your advertisement served? Chances are good that actual human eyeballs didn’t see them. (Thanks, AdBlocker). Depending on the website, 35%-85% of users block ads. Young markets with tech-savvy users block ads much more.
2. Clicks / “Engagements”. How many times was one of your advertisements actually interacted with?
3. Engagement rate: What percentile of your ads served resulted in an interaction? (For Search advertising, 3% is a good target. For display advertising, 0.3% is a solid average.) So per thousand impressions, expect an average of 30 clicks on Search advertising like Google, and 0.3% on display advertising like Reddit/Facebook/Twitter.
4. Cost Per Click (CPC). The core metric in any advertising campaign: Divide the cost of your campaign by the number of times the ad was interacted with. That’s what you paid per click. 
5. Conversion rate: What percentage of visits to your website, overall, resulted in income?
6. Conversion income: What’s the average income that a conversion supplies you?
7. AIpV / Average Income Per Visitor: On average, how much money do you make per click on your website?
8. ROI-A: Return on investment on your advertising. Realistically, 10-20% is a good target. Most ads, if they’re profitable at all (most aren’t), will return only 10-20% more in additional sales than the advertising cost you. The best campaign I’ve ever run for a client returned a 310% ROI, but that was a finely tuned Google Search ad campaign for a regional, limited-supply professional service. 
Be aware that some advertisers (Facebook) will obfuscate their metrics or want you to use their own interaction metrics, which can make it very difficult to determine to industry standards some of these metrics. If you plan to make a serious advertising campaign on one of these advertisers, spend extra time learning what metrics will matter, and look to professional advertiser forums for appropriate targets for your campaign there.
How to determine if your advertising campaign for your writing will be profitable (MATH TIME):
1. Look up your own website’s conversion rate. (If you don’t know, divide your number of transactions on your site in a month by the number of unique visitors in a month. Google Analytics can help you determine this.)
2. Determine your conversion income. (Divide your monthly income from your site by the number of paying customers on your site.)
3. Divide your conversion rate by your conversion income. 
4. Look up the average CPC on the advertising channel. 
5. Compare that against your AIpV. 
Chances are distressingly good that your advertising campaign will not be profitable. Sorry. Just because it won’t be profitable doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be useful, however. When building a name or a brand, having a lot of Impressions hitting eyeballs consistently can help build your brand awareness, and get your name to stick in people’s minds.

A sample advertising campaign, using plausible numbers:
Author writes a book titled “FooDog Generic Fantasy”, and sells it directly from their own website as well as through other distribution channels. It’s a nice book! It’s got great cover art, a solid synopsis with plenty of hooks, and the pricing is well within market norms for a genre book.
Author decides they want to advertise their book. The Author has a choice between two fundamentally different kinds of online advertising: Search Advertising, and Display Advertising. Search advertising displays when someone searches for a related search term that the Author specifies. Display advertising shows to (potentially) just anyone visiting a site/network.
Because the product is a book with a specific title, Author wisely decides that people aren’t likely to be searching for their book by name if they don’t know about it. The title of their fabulous book is “FooDogs Generic Fantasy”, and Author rightly determines that almost nobody will do a Google Search for the nonsense term “FooDogs” unless they already know about the book anyway, and the words “generic” and “fantasy” aren’t going to be useful search terms. (Google will agree with them, and degrade or decline their advertising.)
So Author wisely decides to advertise FooDog Generic Fantasy on display ads, instead. Author is hopefully either decent with art design, or else they’ll be paying someone else for nice artwork for their ads. If Author is going to do it themselves, Author needs to know the technical specifications of the display advertising on their channel, such as resolution of image, size limits, file formats, and form factors. Author will also have to invest the time (10-30 minutes per channel) setting up their user accounts to advertise. 
It takes Author 1 hour to make their own art to their satisfaction, and Author spends 30 minutes setting up their first advertising campaign, researching, and implementing the ad, and another 30 minutes tuning it to their target: Readers who would plausibly enjoy and be interested in FooDog Generic Fantasy. Author knows not to waste their money advertising to people who would prefer to read Wartime Specific NonFiction, so they ensure their ads go where they’d be most effective.
Author makes a $35 investment in one weeks’ worth of advertising, and is down 2 hours of labour.
After week’s worth of waiting and tweaking, Author’s results come in:
Impressions: 35,000
Clicks: 105
Engagement Rate: 0.3%
Cost per Click: $0.33
Author’s results from this advertising campaign are firmly average for a Display ad campaign. So, the advertiser is delivering pretty average results on the internet. Not great, not terrible. 
Next, Author goes to their own website, to track their statistics:
Visitors last week: 105
Conversions: 3
Visitors this week: 210
Conversions: 7
Conversion Rate: 3%. (Firmly average for retail sales online. Not great. Not terrible.)
Author sells FooDog Generic Fantasy eBook for a retail price of $6.00. Of that $6.00, $4.85 is the Author’s profit after taxes and fees. 
Since this is all that the Author currently sells on their site, calculating the average income per conversion is easy: $4.85.
Author’s advertising campaign ostensibly brought in 4 additional customers, for a net benefit of $19.40. 
The ROI-A on this advertising campaign, therefor, is -45%. Ouch! 
While it cost the author money out of pocket to commit to this advertising, it teaches the Author a few valuable lessons about their own website’s offerings: 
1. Author’s advertising campaign was average, it was middle of the road, it was unremarkable. It worked. It was not a failure. By every metric the professionals care about, the ad did what it was supposed to do.
2. Author’s website sucks at making them money. 
3. Author paid only $15.60 (net) to double their site traffic for a week, and put their name and brand awareness into the minds of 105 additional customers. That’s about $0.15 per potential customer, and that isn’t counting the number of people who saw Author’s name and advertising and had it stick in their minds.
If Author had, say, a second and third book to offer on their website for sale, that average income per conversion might rise from $4.85 to $7.50 as readers found interesting looking titles to buy. In this case, Author would still be losing money, but they would be losing only $5.00 for the same advertising and brand marketing benefit.
The better your website is at making conversions of visitors, the more effective your advertisement will be. We’ll see in part 2 my personal experiences with advertising channels, and why controlling your CPC (and, more importantly, improving your conversion rate and income-per-conversion) matters for an author.