Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog--Part 2

Kai, the Australian shepherd rescue that came home with us the day after Thanksgiving, has now been here for three weeks.

(If you'd like to know what's going on in my writing world, you can always check the Tuesday entry each week on Eight Ladies Writing, a blog I co-write with my fellow students from the McDaniel Romance Writing program.)

Things that are good/better:
  • Despite his social anxiety issues (i.e. he barks and lunges at dogs and people), he's been accepted into the Adult Basic Class at Gem City Dog Obedience Club. We start Thursday, January 4th.
  • Working at home, he's gotten a lot better at sit, stay and down. His sit is now good enough to let me get this picture!

  • We've also started working on "muzzle"--getting used to wearing a muzzle, which I suspect he'll need at Gem City.
  • The other command he understands is crate. Yesterday as I was getting ready to go meet friends for lunch, I filled his Kong (a hollow hard rubber dog toy) with peanut butter--something to keep him busy for a while in his crate. When he saw me he sighed and plodded over to his crate and went in and lay down, looking dejected. It was heartbreaking, but really convenient.
  • The mounting behavior that showed up in Week 2 is almost gone. Thank goodness. I spent most of week two shaking him off my leg and peeling him off my back. I understand this behavior is dominance, not sex, but his nails left me covered in bruises. I did not like it.
  • His fear aggression on a leash has gotten slightly better. I watched some YouTube training videos on this topic and learned that if I walk him away from things that trigger him or insert myself between him and the so-called danger, with my back to the danger, it calms him. Unless he's really keyed up (like first thing in the morning), that can be enough to calm him. 

Things that are neutral:
  • He doesn't chase the ball as much as when he came here. At first, it would require 30 throws down the length of our yard, with him running full out, before he was remotely willing to go back inside. Now, after a throw or two he settles down to chew on the ball, or wanders around the yard looking for a place to hide it. 
  • He still barks and lunges at the neighbors at the back fence, but I can read his bark and his body language well enough now to realize he's not really doing the fear-aggression thing, he's just amusing himself. Unfortunately, the neighbors don't really see the nuance--they just know he still barks at them. We've started using the penny can (an empty tennis ball can with pennies in the bottom--he doesn't like the noise it makes.) and the spray bottle (he also doesn't like being hit with a stream of water right between the eye) to provide negative reinforcement for this behavior.
Things that are worse:
  • When he first arrived, if we left the house for a few hours we would leave him free to roam. Lately, though, he's become a bit destructive--he removes the insoles from my shoes and slobbers on them and he pulls the nap from the throw rugs. One day he found a bag of potatoes. He shredded the plastic bag and ate the eyes out of the potatoes. Just the eyes. Very weird. So now he has to be crated. Hoping that will reverse once he's more accustomed.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Dog Day Afternoon--and Morning and Night!

And now for something totally unrelated to writing...

Last Friday, Old Dog and I drove to Cleveland to meet and, as it turned out, adopt a one-year-old Australian shepherd named Kai (pronounced to rhyme with the last syllable of bonsai).

Here's a picture of Kai lying outside the bathroom in our back hallway:

If you're a dog person, you're probably wondering why anyone would give up such a beautiful dog.

His original family had a couple of small children and two Aussies. At some point last summer they decided that was all just too much, so they gave the dogs up for adoption. 

So far, he's been a mixed bag of joy and frustration/anxiety--but with a definite bent toward joy.

  • He is absolutely obsessed with playing ball. If someone will throw it for him, he will gladly chase it till he has no energy left (which takes around 30 throws down the length of our big yard).

  • If no one will throw it, he will play by himself. Kind of. What he actually does is shove the ball beneath some piece of furniture and then try to get it back out. If he can't (about 70% of the time) he cries and yelps until his new mom comes and digs it our for him. Then he immediately shoves it back into the same spot.
  • He's a very cuddly bed buddy. He's staked out his spot in the middle of our king-sized bed and he happily lies there all night, alternately pressing his warm little back against my calves or Old Dog's. (Who made the decision to let the dog sleep in our bed, you ask? That would be Old Dog.)
  • He's a nightmare on a leash. Today we invested in a corrective harness that apparently makes it uncomfortable to jerk and lunge. Things got much better and we were actually able to go for a walk.
  • At the vet's on Tuesday, he was doing great until she leaned over and made eye contact. That's apparently some kind of trigger, because he instantly transformed into a barking, snarling monster. He did the same thing when our dog-loving neighbors leaned over the fence to pet him.
  • He finished his well visit to the vet in a muzzle. The vet says he wasn't properly socialized as a puppy. She says, because he's still young, this can be trained out of him with enough patience and discipline. She says we need to take him into as many social situations as possible and help him learn to cope.
After the first of the year, Kai and I will start obedience training, with the intention of moving on into agility work or nose work once he's mastered the basics of good doggy behavior. 

If anyone has any suggestions around taking a very active, very bright dog who was never properly socialized as a puppy and turning him into a good canine citizen, I'm all ears!

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Chunky Writing Method

Last weekend my RWA chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers, hosted Allie Pleiter, inventor of the Chunky Writing Method. The Chunky Method is a way of scheduling your writing time to make yourself more productive, based on how you naturally write–in big chunks or small chunks.
The size of your natural chunk can be determined by how many words you can write on a normal day before you run out of energy/creativity. In the absence of writer’s block or incomplete research, which will stop any writer from moving forward, each writer will still hit a point where they just run out of steam.
Big chunk writers, according to Ms. Pleiter, can write thousands of words before that happens. Small chunk writers run dry after only a few hundred words–or even less.
But, she says, don’t despair. By figuring out which kind of writer you are, you can adjust your writing schedule to make the most of the way you write.
Big chunk writers typically need big chunks of time to produce words. They need time to get into their story world before the words start coming. They also, often, need a dedicated space to write and a minimum of distractions. Once those things are in place, they are fiction-writing machines.
Small chunk writers, on the other hand, can sit down in a coffee shop and start batting out their word count on a moment’s notice. They don’t need warm-up time or a dedicated space, so it’s much easier for them to schedule multiple chunks in a single day.
Not sure which kind of writer you are? Ms. Pleiter suggests tracking your word count for five days. Sit down and write till you run out of steam. If you average over a thousand words per session, you’re a big chunk writer; less than a thousand suggests you’re a small chunk writer.
Want to know more about the Chunky Method? Check out Allie Pleiter’s website.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Stages of a Manuscript

Stage 1: This is a brilliant idea! Once this thing is published, it will make me instantly famous and very, very rich.
Stage 2: Okay, it’s a good idea, but how in the world am I going to make this work?
Stage 3: Whatever possessed me to think this was a good idea? Joss Whedon himself couldn’t figure out how to make all these pieces come together.
Stage 4: Okay, okay, I think I see how it can work. I really am pretty smart.
Stage 5: But I SUCK as a writer. This has to be the most boring pile of manuscript crap ever committed to paper.
Stage 6: So that was a pretty good scene. Clever banter, a little humor. Maybe not every reader will abandon ship on page 1.
Stage 7: I have a book! It didn’t turn out quite like I thought it would (or, it turned out nothing like I thought it would), but there’s a worthwhile story here.
Stage 8: Okay, it’s out in the world. How do I make people aware of its existence?
Here’s where I am with the first three books in my Touched by a Demon series:
Book 1: The Demon Always Wins--Stage 8
Book 2: The Demon's in the Details--Stage 7 (with sudden trips back to Stage 3 as I work through my editor’s feedback)
Book 3: The Demon Wore Stilettos--Stage 3
How about you?

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Many Facets of Love

The Greeks have 7 different words to describe love:
  1. Eros (sexual love)
  2. Ludus (playful love)
  3. Philia (friendship)
  4. Agape (selfless love)
  5. Philautia (self-love)
  6. Pragma (longstanding love)
  7. Storge (love of children)
Good romance novels depict most or even all of these.
1. The couple is attracted by eros. Sexual chemistry initially draws them to each other, but that’s barely enough to sustain a one-night stand, never mind a happy ever after.
Example: every romance novel ever written.
2. Romances are much more fun to read if there’s an element of ludus, typically portrayed through banter, and through what the late Blake Snyder called the “fun and games” section of a movie script, where people are chasing around and unexpected things happen. For that matter, Christian Grey’s playroom can even fulfill that need for those so inclined.
Example: The first half of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, where Jess and Dan spar and try to keep their distance from one another, even while attraction drags them relentlessly together.
3. In most well-constructed romance novels, there’s also philia in the form of support from the couples respective communities. This gives each lover someone to bounce things off of, and a chance to gather more objective input as problems start to mount.
Jenny Crusie is the mistress of this. Every one of her books has, or builds, a rich, positive community.  In Bet Me, her RITA® award-winning romance, Minerva’s cadre of friends and family are there to back her up at every step. In Dogs and Goddesses, the three protagonists start out as strangers but go on to form a solid, supportive community.
4. In almost every romance novel I’ve ever read, in order to earn their happy ever after, the protagonist must display agape, the ability to love the other selflessly and to put the other’s needs ahead of their own.
I’m going to cite my own debut novel, The Demon Always Wins, here. Although Belial starts the novel intent on corrupting and destroying the heroine, Dara, once he falls in love with her he will do anything, including risking destruction in the Lake of Fire, to save her.
5. It may seem to run counter to what I just said about agape, but to complete their character arc, the protagonist must also learn philautia, self-love. This occurs in the form of overcoming the character flaw that is keeping them from succeeding in the quest the plot calls for them to accomplish.
In Lord of Scoundrels, Dain must overcome his horrific childhood and learn to accept and love himself to truly become a couple with Jessica.
6. Finally, the happy ever after ending is a promise of pragma, long-term love.
In a country where the divorce rate runs between 40 and 50%, pragma is what every couple dreams about. It’s also what romance novels, by definition, offer their readers. The two rules for romance novels are:  1) They must contain a central romance and 2) They must have a “satisfying and optimistic” ending–the promise of a future together for the couple.
7. Finally, the desire for storge, love of children, may explain readers’ love of epilogues, which often feature the children of the couple making an appearance.
Romance writers: we do it all.

Friday, October 19, 2018

So How Are Those Amazon Ads Working Out for You? Part 2

Last week, we talked about how Amazon ads work for authors at a hypothetical level. This week. we’re going to talk about how they worked for me when I ran them.
My ad campaign was put together by a publicity agency with stock set of keywords for my type of novel, plus some that I suggested.
Here are the overall numbers and top performing keywords from Campaign #1:
Ad copy: Sometimes you have to go through Hell to claim your Heaven.
ImpressionsClicksACPCSpendTotal SalesACoS
KeywordsMatchCPC BidImpressionsClicksACPC*SpendSalesAcos**
win winBroad$0.504411$0.08$0.08$0.00  –
devilBroad$0.503951$0.27$0.27$0.00  –
bibleBroad$0.502920  –$0.00$0.00  –
demonBroad$0.502313$0.29$0.87$0.00  –
enemies to loversBroad$0.502180  –$0.00$0.00  –
shiloh walkerBroad$0.502170  –$0.00$0.00  –
widowBroad$0.501800  –$0.00$0.00  –
pc castBroad$0.501450  –$0.00$0.00  –
christina doddBroad$0.501320  –$0.00$0.00  –
bittenBroad$0.501310  –$0.00$0.00  –
fateBroad$0.501240  –$0.00$0.00  –
touchedBroad$0.501210  –$0.00$0.00  –
danteBroad$0.501180  –$0.00$0.00  –
halfway to the graveBroad$0.501020  –$0.00$0.00  –
alwaysBroad$0.50990  –$0.00$0.00  –
the darkest nightBroad$0.50990  –$0.00$0.00  –
jd robbBroad$0.50910  –$0.00$0.00  –
cheyenne mccrayBroad$0.50890  –$0.00$0.00  –
rise of the fallenBroad$0.50880  –$0.00$0.00  –
erin mccarthyBroad$0.50800  –$0.00$0.00  –
it lucasBroad$0.50770  –$0.00$0.00  –
scarsBroad$0.50710  –$0.00$0.00  –
soulmatesBroad$0.50690  –$0.00$0.00  –
shiverBroad$0.50630  –$0.00$0.00  –
*Average Cost Per Click
**Average Cost of Sales
And here are the results from Campaign #2:
Ad copy: Sparks fly upward when fallen angel Belial comes to Earth on a mission to corrupt God’s favorite in this Golden Heart® winner.
ImpressionsClicksACPCSpendTotal SalesACoS
KeywordsMatchCPC BidImpressionsClicksACPC*SpendSalesAcos**
booksBroad$0.503,5104$0.33$1.30$0.00  –
win winBroad$0.501,2120  –$0.00$0.00  –
devilBroad$0.501,0130  –$0.00$0.00  –
demonBroad$0.507695$0.45$2.27$0.00  –
shiloh walkerBroad$0.507410  –$0.00$0.00  –
touchedBroad$0.504571$0.37$0.37$0.00  –
bittenBroad$0.504240  –$0.00$0.00  –
christina doddBroad$0.504120  –$0.00$0.00  –
alwaysBroad$0.503980  –$0.00$0.00  –
pc castBroad$0.503850  –$0.00$0.00  –
fateBroad$0.503660  –$0.00$0.00  –
widowBroad$0.503620  –$0.00$0.00  –
soulmatesBroad$0.503530  –$0.00$0.00  –
enemies to loversBroad$0.503230  –$0.00$0.00  –
molly harperBroad$0.502850  –$0.00$0.00  –
halfway to the graveBroad$0.502660  –$0.00$0.00  –
redemptionBroad$0.502391$0.37$0.37$0.00  –
shiverBroad$0.502320  –$0.00$0.00  –
markedBroad$0.502230  –$0.00$0.00  –
donya lynneBroad$0.502230  –$0.00$0.00  –
cheyenne mccrayBroad$0.502220  –$0.00$0.00  –
erin mccarthyBroad$0.502170  –$0.00$0.00  –
rise of the fallenBroad$0.502160  –$0.00$0.00  –
tina folsomBroad$0.502070  –$0.00$0.00  –
the darkest nightBroad$0.502020  –$0.00$0.00  –
Before we talk about results, let’s take a moment to review what we learned last week:
  1. Impressions (i.e. position in search results) is determined by:
    1. Keywords and match type (exact, phrase or broad)
    2. Bid per click.
First takeaway–despite getting 27,000 impressions across both campaigns, I only sold one book.  On the plus side, I only spent $11.52, so not a huge investment for an opportunity to start figuring things out.
Second takeaway is that Campaign #2 did much better than #1 in terms of impressions (like, three times better), but they used the same keywords, matching and bid per click. Both ads ran at the same time, so that’s not a factor.
The only difference I can identify between Campaign #1 and Campaign #2 is the ad copy. The copy for campaign #2 contains the word “winner,” which is a broad match for my keyword “win-win.” That accounts for 1212 extra impressions, but it doesn’t explain the full delta.
For example, Campaign #1 got 1120 impressions for the keyword “books,” while Campaign #2 got 3510–three times as many.
Third takeaway is that, while Campaign #2 did better in terms of impressions, Campaign #1 did better in terms of clicks per impression by 40:1.
If I’m constructing an ad campaign aimed at brand awareness, which has value for a total newbie like myself, but no immediate payoff, the second campaign was better.
If, on the other hand, I’m shooting for impressions that drive clicks, the first worked better.
My fourth and final takeaway from this initial foray into Amazon ads is that before I try this again, I need to glean a much better understanding of how Amazon ads work.
Some of the other Eight Ladies have indicated they’d rather stick a fork in their eye than spend hours analyzing data. I, on the other hand, have a data analysis background and I’m totally geeking out over this.
You’ll be hearing more on this topic.


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