Sunday, August 25, 2013

Size Matters

When I started writing my novel I had a grand idea that it would be at least 100,000 words. Before I had even determined the full arc I knew I wanted to write 100,000 words. It was a nice round number and as far as I could tell it would make a pretty decent length book. The problem was that as much as I wanted the 100k the more I wrote the more I discovered that it was either going to be a stretch to get it there or it would wind up being a 150,000 word marathon.

So what's the right number? If quantifiable numbers are your thing you can look to the Smashwords article from May 2013 for a very telling answer. A book's success can be directly tied to its sales and the average length of the top 100 books on Smashwords is a hair over 115,000 words. Of course even Smashwords says flat out that most authors would be thrilled to be in the top 500. So, if you look at their top 500 the average length is just a bit over 77,000. Double the ranking and it only drops a couple thousand words. So, if the top 100 is any measure (which it should be) you're writing a good length novel. If you're happy sitting in the top 1000 (which you should be) then you can probably do with 40,000 words less - almost an entire novel - and still be doing just fine. Of course, when you look at the same Smashwords data you'll see that the top book (#1) outsells #50 by a margin of 7 to 1 and #50 outsells #500 by another 5 to 1. I'm sensing a trend here...

That same Smashwords article also had a price point comparison and it looks like FREE and 99¢ are the big winners, but $3.99 seems to be the magic number, which if you're an indie author could mean a serious advantage over someone who's traditionally published and has all that additional overhead - and cost - associated with their book (that, or the author is taking a serious cut when it comes to royalties).

So what about the short story? Is it doomed? The numbers seem to suggest that short stories don't sell very well at all. To me, this seems counter-intuitive, especially in the digital age. They make perfect sense, and all for one very simple reason: time! With every device under the sun capable of displaying a book, and in today's go-go-go world I would think that it would simply be easier to pick up an anthology or collection and read a couple short stories and then move on as opposed to having to invest hours and hours of reading chapter after chapter (and if you're reading Dan Brown, chapter after chapter after chapter after chapter after chapter...)

My theory seems to hold especially true for short story erotica. You may be asking, how is it that people can sell erotica for $2.99 or even $3.99 for a 10,000 word short story and get away with it? That's the same price as an average length (and commonly priced) full length 115,000 word novel! Well, in addition to the time factor the the answer also lies in re-usability. You're not likely to re-read that 400 page novel over and over, but any time you're in the mood for a quick... um... "break", you'll bust out that erotic short story quicker than a prisoner on conjugal visitation day.

Now, as the writer of a blog (a new post every Sunday here at Potato Chip Math) I've been long curious about the optimal length for a blog entry. Now, it seems that if you go looking for this information you'll find almost as many answers as you find experts. One recent article I found was particularly interesting. It basically says that people value longer copy over their shorter counterparts. While I think there is definitely some truth to that statement I think that the author goes out of his way to over-simplify. At one point he simply compares length of post (greater than or less than 1500 words) to number of tweets and Facebook "likes". The posts greater than 1500 words got more of both. The scientist in me is going absolutely crazy over this. How many other variables are in play? Too many to be able to say with any degree of certainty that this is a result you can hang your hat on.

That being said, there was one interesting statistic that it mentioned which did make me go "hmm": Google search results. Here's a quote directly from the article and the graph they had to support it:

"The average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2000 words."

So maybe there's something to a post or article with a bit more meat to it. As for all my posts, as I eluded to above, views to word count isn't a direct comparison because so many other factors go into each one. Did I tweet about it more often? Did I post in a comment thread on another blog or article? Did I try to engage my audience or just pump out noise? Ding! Ding! Ding! Here's a pro tip for you: engagement works but it takes work! Frankly, I'm okay with the traffic I am getting for the amount of work I'm putting in. I know when I try to do more with it I get more impressive results, and sometimes that's just what I do, but I have to be realistic with my time. Blogging isn't my full time job. Heck, it's not even a job at all. It's a tool and like most tools, it's all in how you use them.

So, size does matter but the experts agree, content is king. I don't think this should come as a surprise to content providers and creators of the world. I know I like to ask, "Aren't people impatient; with the attention spans of small children?" The answer is generally yes, but I have found that this doesn't hold true for people who actually like to read. Sure, we all like snazzy infographics and quick information, but people who are looking for reputable information and who want to learn and explore new things and are generally curious will usually go beyond the fold to get what the're looking for.

At the end of it all, and as far as my novel is concerned, agents and editors will have a better sense of what changes are needed to achieve results. That's why they do what they do and why I'll gladly pay them to do it. What this means means for me is that I should take as many words as I need to tell the story. No more, no less.

As for this post, well, by the time it's done there will be 1,171 words on the virtual page. I'm already curious to see how many views it gets.

~ Andrew

Sunday, August 18, 2013

From Russia With Gay Love

A while back there was some news coming out of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding a ruling on marriage equality. I shared my thoughts on the topic in a very well received blog post. Well it seems that our cold war adversaries on the other side of the Bering Strait have a few thoughts on this as well.

Unless you've been severely news deprived over the last month you will know that Russia has passed anti-gay laws that could land a person in jail if they are caught promoting a "non-traditional" lifestyle. There have been protests, there have been riots, and more than a couple countries (Canada and the U.S. included) have waggled a mean finger in their general direction. Now, there's a movement (albeit a small, and from what I can tell, largely ineffective one) to have nations boycott the Olympics taking place in Sochi Russia in February 2014.

While I think that it's a nice notion, I don't happen to think it would have any real impact on the situation. If every nation failed to show up then we'd have a story, but we all know that that's more fantasy than the idea of a Beatles reunion. At least one reporter has an opinion on this and goes into great detail about past boycotts and their utter ineffectiveness. So, given that a boycott won't happen, and  even if it did it wouldn't make a lick of difference, what can we do?

Well, I suggested in the comments on that article that the Canadian (and American) governments make a slight change to our respective flags - temporarily, of course - such that whenever a medal was won the Russians would have to hoist something like this to the rafters:

Oh, Canada!

As unlikely a scenario as this is, I thought that this would produce the absolute best results. It would mean that the Russian Olympic Committee would have to willingly display gay propaganda - to the entire world no less - and it would not put any one athlete at risk.

For a brief moment I thought that I was a genius. Until it occurred to me that there was about as much chance of that happening as that aforementioned Beatles reunion. In mentioning it to a co-worker he had an even better idea: change the equipment! Can you imagine the entire men's and women's hockey teams staking around with laces on their skates and tape on their sticks that look like this?

Regardless of what form of protest would be considered the best, one thing I know is that if everyone stays silent on the issue then we fail. Individual athletes will step up, I'm sure of it, but they will be a very small voice in a raging sea of white noise and Russian propaganda - and they will be putting themselves at great personal risk. As much as those small voices matter, this needs to be tackled on a much larger scale.

In his inauguration address in 1961 John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." My fellow humanitarians, I'm turning that quote around and asking my country to show a little courage and do something for us. If they won't, then I'll turn and ask the Olympic Committee to step up. If they won't then we'll just have to see how many of those small voices we can get together so they can show the leaders of the world how to actually make a difference.

~ Andrew

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Brokeback Blogging

Are you obsessed with "analytics"? I am. I was under the impression a lot of people were but I'm not so sure why I would think that. Certainly if you're selling something I would hope you're trying to figure out who's buying, who's looking, and all the trends that come along with the buyers and the lookers. Sales: now that's something people love to track.

Me, I'm not selling anything - yet - but I'm positively hooked on knowing more about the people reading my blog. Are you a first time visitor or returning? Do I have a clue what it means when the ratio is skewed one way versus the other?

I'm also really interested in where people are reading my blog. I have had one person from Estonia spend a few minutes perusing, so that was exciting. I've had every province in Canada visit, but none of the arctic territories. What about the U.S., you ask? Well I've had people from 49 out of the 50 states stop by, which I think is pretty cool. The only one missing? Wyoming. 

What the heck is up with Wyoming? 

It's been driving me crazy for a while now and I'm beginning to think I'm going about it all wrong. I need to blog about something that Wyomingites want to read, not stuff about the state itself, or just mentioning Wyoming. Right? Wyoming Wyoming Wyoming. What the heck do people in Wyoming want to read anyway? It's clear I don't have the foggiest idea.

In looking at that picture above it's obvious that I have fans in New York, Texas, and California. With some other interested folks in Indiana and Georgia. That's a good sign and there's a bit more coverage up into Kansas and Kentucky than I'd expect but hey, I'm not complaining.

For some reason I even care about what browser people are using. I'm not sure if this is because Google has it as a criteria or if I'm trying to somehow justify my own personal choice of browser (it's probably a little bit of both). Incidentally, #1 on the list has more visits than the next three combined.

Does it matter? Am I too obsessed? Am I not obsessed enough? Should I obsess about different things? What does it all mean?!?

Maybe I should just write and not worry about it - until I have a book to sell ;)

~ Andrew

P.S. Wyoming 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

A while back I wrote a post on how the general consensus is that for books that are made into movies, the book will almost always be better. After seeing not one, but two stage versions of The Who's rock opera "Tommy" I have come to the conclusion that musical theatre is to music as movie adaptations are to books.

Rock & Roll music made into a movie with some of the
biggest names of that time in showbiz

There's a reason there's the musical expression "phrasing". Music, you see, is a language. From our friends at Wikipedia: "Phrase and phrasing are concepts and practices related to grouping consecutive melodic notes, both in their composition and performance." Music, much like the words on the page, allows the mind to wander, fill in the gaps, and fill the consumer with wonder and amazement.

Neither the 1995 nor the 2013 editions of "Tommy" did any of that for me and mostly for the same reasons. I expect a certain style when it comes to musical theatre, but I also have expectations when it comes to live music (not just concerts, but any non-recorded music). Live music should be bigger, louder, full of emotion and energy. It should invoke feelings, and lots of them.

I know, I know. $75 freaking dollars - for balcony?!

Granted, I was only 21 when I saw the 1995 show but I was no stranger to theatre. For its time the visuals were outstanding but I found the actors to be disengaged and tentative, almost as if they were afraid to make a mistake or personally offend the original creators. The music was definitely loud enough, but it was lacking most of the criteria I was expecting.

Now with a few more years behind me (eighteen to be precise), I can look at the performance from this week and, well, basically say the same things. Most of the players were pretty engaging, but I found the lead (teenage Tommy) to be weak. It was as if during the whole performance he was wondering what he'd be having for dinner after the show. The new fancy backdrop visuals were distracting and didn't add any value. The music could have been louder, and it was lacking intensity. It was as if someone threw a towel over the guitarist's amp and took away his distortion pedal.

Stratford Festival ticket deal for the win!

Now here comes a comparison with another stage show based on popular music: Abba's "Mamma Mia!" (this could very well be the first time someone's ever compared Abba and The Who. A quick Google search turned up 40,700,000 results of which I looked at the first two pages and found no such comparison. Feel free to check out the other 40,699,960 results and prove me wrong).

This principal difference between the two plays (aside from the vastly different plots) lies in the music and the musicians themselves. Abba songs are not rock & roll. Abba songs are poppy, toe tapping ditties and they lend themselves quite nicely for use in a live musical. Abba songs aren't bigger than life; the stage production brought them to life and then gave them more heart. Songs by The Who absolutely ooze rock & roll. Songs by The Who are not toe tapping and the lion's share are far from anything I'd classify as a ditty.

They are amplifier exploding epics that make you want to smash things.

You know what I expect when I hear someone play The Who? More freakin' guitar, that's what. Cowbell is to Blue Oyster Cult as guitar is to The Who and from what I heard in Stratford - and in listening back to the original 1995 stage recording - Peter Townshend should be rolling over in his grave (wait... what? He's not dead?! Oh. Sorry, Pete. Moving on...) At the end of it all I simply found "Tommy" to be a little too much tea & crumpets and not enough rock & roll (finale excepted - it was great in both performances).

I can't say I'm terribly surprised though. Music, really good music, packs so much into each song that it has got to be really difficult to breathe more life into it, short of performing the song live at an actual concert. Could this be a reason for there being such a lack of stage musicals based on popular music? I happen to think so. That being said, if anyone wants to go out and put together a stage production of RUSH's 2112 I'd be all for it. Lord knows that would at least allow for a better comparison than ABBA.

RUSH's 2112 "Starman"