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Inside a Beautiful Mind – An Interview

Many thanks to the wonderfully talented Kade Cook for the interview on her blog Inside a Beautiful Mind posted today, September 22, 2017. Check it out at the link or read it below.

Inside A Beautiful Mind – Shirani Rajapakse

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Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday

Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.

For those of you who have been here before, go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the wonderfully talented Shirani Rajapakse.

Good Morning Shirani, thank you for hanging out with me this morning and being a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.

So now let’s get to it and tell our readers a little bit about yourself. 

 

Hi and thank you for having me over for a chat.

I’m a poet and short story writer from Sri Lanka. I live in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo. I have worked in journalism, research and management. About 15 years ago I became a full time creative writer. It wasn’t something I had planned. It just happened. I was in between jobs and had planned to take a year off to do several things I wanted andSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA just relax before getting back to the rat race. I also thought this would be the ideal time to edit several stories as well as put down ideas I had scribbled in note books. But it didn’t seem to end as the ideas tumbled out one after the other and I kept writing short stories and poems, adding to what I already had. I realized how much I enjoyed writing and decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not as a hobby, but full time.

I’ve published two books – a short story collection and a poetry book. I have also published a lot of individual pieces in literary journals and anthologies around the world.

I’m a vegetarian and a chocoholic. I love dogs and have an eight year old dog named Bambi who has become rather dependent on me since her mother died last year.

I enjoy reading anything that is well written. The genres I read these days are literary fiction, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, light mystery, fantasy and of course quite a bit of poetry.

Can you tell us about your books?

My first publication was a collection of short stories. It was called Breaking News and it was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award in 2010 and published by a small traditional publisher the following year.

This year I self published my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. I worked on it the whole of last putting together the poems that would make up the collection, deciding on what to use and the order of the poems and also getting it edited. I spent the better half of this year learning about self publishing – how to format books, do covers (although I didn’t do the cover for this one), and also market and promote the book. I published it last month, and although it’s taken longer than I thought it would to get published it was fully worth it.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I have been writing since the late 1990s. My first book is an unpublished novel and was inspired by a rather disturbing incident that took place involving a young woman. After writing this I began writing short stories and poems. I think it was like a chill out period from writing the novel. I found that I liked writing short stories and poems; the brevity of words was refreshing and I felt intrigued with the shorter forms of writing. Since there were many stories and poems piling up I felt it was time to start publishing them as collections. I decided to go with a short story collection first because I was more serious about fiction than poetry. Breaking News was publishing in 2011. I didn’t think I would write many poems or that it would become a form of writing I preferred over stories until much later. It was only after Breaking News was published and I started looking through my unpublished work that I found enough poems to make up loosely themed collections.

Chant of a Million Women is the first collection to be self published. Each of the poems were written at different times, and although I had a collection ready by the end of last year, I found myself adding three more poems a few months before I signed off on my final draft. The poems are about women in different circumstances and situations. TheyChant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse are influenced by what has been happening to women down the ages and across the world, the treatment of women and children and the responses of society. They cover a gamut of topics and emotions and I hope these poems open up a dialogue to discuss issues about the treatment of women.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Everything I write about is influenced by what I see around me. The stories or poems are not all based on real life experiences but most are. Breaking News is based on incidents that took place in Sri Lanka and consists of stories written about living under the threat of war that a lot of us experienced. Getting attacked by Tamil terrorists, losing family and friends, not knowing if we would return home when we left for work or school, was normal life for us for many years. Yet despite the terror and fear we lived under there was also room to poke fun at our situation and enjoy whatever bursts of sunshine we could have. It also made us realize how transient life was and that gave us a sense of awareness about how precious it was.

Chant of a Million Women has a lot of ‘stories’ told in verse about incidents that I’ve read or heard about. It is more global in outlook than Breaking News, but there are many poems that have Sri Lanka, South Asian and even the Middle East as a backdrop. Everything is not factual but most of it is based on fact. Imagination takes over to create something that is uniquely mine.

What was your favorite parts to write and why?

In Breaking News, it was the way the stories developed. My first lines were important to me and these were the lines that started the stories for me. If I couldn’t find the right words to start the story I couldn’t write it and that became a challenge. In Chant of a Million Women all the lines mattered, not just the first lines and this meant I had to work harder at developing every poem. I had to give a lot of thought and make a bigger effort to create the poems, more than the stories. Every line had to work; every line had to be a thought or idea, or even part of an idea. There was no room for fillers or excess words. I already had many poems but I needed to add more to make up a collection. There were sometimes ‘stories’ that I wanted to write about again, with a different angle and it was interesting to see how I could do this without making it seem similar to the one already included. The challenge was to create poems that were different yet addressed the issues I wanted.

How did you come up with the titles?

Both books take the titles from a story/ poem included in the collections. I selected Breaking News as the title of the book because I thought it would be a good title since it was the first book I was publishing and it was like a news item calling emphasis to the book. Also the subject matter being such – attacks on civil society, the disruption of life and destruction of property by terrorist attack – anything happening during that time was ‘news’ and would be splashed across the newspapers. With the poetry book the obvious choice was Chant of a Million Women since the book is all about women. It details the experiences and situations women the world over face and it is also something almost all women can identify with.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I haven’t got much harsh criticism for my writing, but I’ve been told the stories in Breaking News are difficult to read because of the subject matter. I do realize it is not easy to talk about some things, but I don’t believe in shying away from issues just because it is hard to come to terms with. I think that if we can live through horror and come out of it, then it’s also important to talk about it and as a writer I know I will continue to do that, even though it may not be appreciated by many people.

Since publishing Breaking News I’ve been submitting work, mostly poetry to literary journals and anthologies and except for three instances when the editors suggested very minor changes to the work submitted, like changing a word or two or delete a couple of lines, I’ve never had to re-write or alter anything I submitted. I consider this a huge compliment as it means I have been able to create something that is near perfect. Another compliment would be the acceptance of my work by editors of literary journals the world over, as it means they like and value my work enough to include it in their publications that are read by many different people.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I don’t know if this qualifies as quirky or unique, but I tend to do my first draft in my mind. I have to see everything in my mind, like a movie. I can’t write it if it doesn’t unfold in a particular sequence and even if the desire to write it is strong, the story won’t sound good and it won’t be a success. I’ve tried that and have realized it just doesn’t work. So now I let it play inside my head before I take it down and put it in words. Although I love writing I’m a lazy writer. It takes me ages to write what’s in my mind. I’ve lost many ideas because I was lazy to put them down.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I mostly just write, although there are some times when I outline my stories in my mind. When I get inspired by either reading or seeing something I immediately see a story happening in my mind. Sometimes the story I have is not at all related to what I’ve seen or read but is merely influenced or inspired by just reading or seeing whatever it was I saw or read. I let the story flow through my mind like a short movie for a few seconds until I am comfortable with it, then I quickly write it down. It doesn’t have to be the full story or poem, but I have to write whatever comes to mind. Later I add and change things around, but that first line or idea has to be there. It’s the same with poems, although I have to write down the complete poem when I am inspired. The editing later takes care of any discrepancies etc.

 

Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?

I’ll talk about my second book Chant of a Million Women because it is the first book that is self published and this means a lot to me. The collection was put together in 2015 from poems I had written at various times. I started working on it seriously in 2016 when I began selecting the poems that I wanted from what was there, adding new poems, creating an order and getting it all edited and ready for publishing. Then I left it to learn about how to self publish. I spent the first six months of this year talking to people online and in writers groups, asking questions which later I realized were so silly but at that time felt like they were the most important, learning to format a book, design covers, making decisions about where to publish and how to market the book etc. This was probably the most intense six months of work I’d done for a long time and it felt harder than writing. I was very fortunate to meet some very nice and helpful people and I’ve made friends with quite a lot of people along the way. Writing was the easy part, publishing was hard and I think marketing and promoting the book is going to be the hardest.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I had been collecting poems for a long time and in 2015 I started separating them into themed collections. The strongest to come out was the theme on women. But I didn’t have enough and I started adding more. Then in 2016 I had a rough draft of about 85 poems. That got edited down to 80 and then to 70 by the end of 2016. I decided to publish this and left it to start learning about self publishing. A couple of months before I started to format the book I included three more poems that I had written with the objective of submit to a journal.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I think the genre chose me. I’m more interested in literary fiction probably because that has been the genre I’ve read the most. As for writing, I never thought I’d write short stories or poems since I didn’t much like short stories and I had no idea how to write poetry. I always thought I’d be a novelist. The short stories and poems were written during breaks in writing the two full length novels that are yet unpublished. When it came to publishing I submitted the short stories and one of the novels. The publisher selected the short stories. After publishing I continued to write short stories as I felt some of the stories I had worked better as short stories than as a novel. I also began submitting poetry to journals and this resulted in turning towards writing more poems. I realized that the more I read and wrote poetry the more interested I was in writing verse and also that I was getting better at it.

Where do you get your ideas?

The ideas are all around me. They are to be found in the garden listening to the squirrels chirping in the trees, watching the sun walk across the sky every day and the conversations I have with people around the world and the news happening everywhere.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing

I grew up reading Enid Blytons and the classics like Jane Austen, the Brontes and others. I devoured books. Anything that was interesting was read and re-read. Books were like a lifeline of sorts and I preferred reading to homework. I can’t say a particular book or author influenced me, because there were many authors that I followed and many books that influenced me at the various stages of my life. I also found that a particular author or book I liked at one time in my life didn’t bring me as much joy in another time. I used to think it strange but realize that we outgrow our interests and what we find pleasure in at one time can be boring and uninteresting at another time based purely on our experiences and where we have been in life.

Growing up I read mostly white writers and it was only when I was in my twenties in University, reading for my degree in Literature that I found myself having to read non white writers or writers using Africa and Asia as their background for stories. At first I didn’t want to read them as I had got so accustomed to reading and being familiar with the type of writing of white writers. Then when I started reading I was amazed to find how much I liked the stories I read and could finally identify with the characters and the worlds they inhabited. It was like reading my own experiences and narrative.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Write whatever you want to write because you alone know the stories you want to tell. When you sit down to write let the words flow the way they want. Later, when you have finished your story or chapter go through it and make any changes. Then put it away and go do something else. Write another story, read a book, travel somewhere, do anything to forget the story you wrote. Come back and look at it objectively. Edit it as if it was someone else’s story and not yours. Be as merciless as you can, cutting down unnecessary words, adding new words to make the story stand out. Polish the lines, re construct sentences left hanging. Tighten them like you would tune a stringed instrument to get just the right notes. Put it aside again for another month or two. Let your eyes go over it again and send it to someone to read, maybe a beta reader. Edit based on the feedback you get. Keep editing until you are happy with it and know that there is nothing you can do for it anymore. But of course, writing and editing is never finished and you will always have something you want to add or change even minutes before you hit publish.

What is your favorite quote or saying?

Write with your heart. Edit with your head. Not my words but they work for me.

 Tea or coffee?

Love them both. Sometimes I’m a coffee drinker and at other times I’m a hopeless tea drinker.

Sweet or salty?

As long as it is chocolate then it’s sweet.

Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?

Here are two very different poems from Chant of a Million Women.

Loneliness

 

Because I crossed over

no man’s land one day, a few steps

of nothingness between two countries

that drew borders to fence us in.

A sliver of territory

just enough for a road to run through,

a few kiosks that might make it

livable, but not

sufficient for homes

to make you feel loved, or

to put down roots.

 

No one feels

at home in no man’s land.

 

No one stops there. Not for long.

Only lonely birds swooping down infrequently

to rest awhile, taking wing as they sense

all is not quite right. Or

the occasional curious cow that wonders

if the grass is really greener

yet doesn’t venture further.

A feeling of unease she can’t quite understand;

fear of death by slaughter, slow and painful,

cold breeze carrying messages of anguish

and terror waiting on

the other side.

 

Because sometimes words

are not required to make one understand or

experience joy and grief

at the same time.

 

Because of this you left, unable

to comprehend, refused to accompany me.

Stood for an hour at the threshold until

the gates closed behind me.

You gazed as I went over

to the other country.

Past the entrance,

the men in uniform, the plumed hats,

the paperwork, the stamp of finality,

to get lost in the rest of what makes it theirs.

 

Not yours anymore.

 

Because it happened so long ago you

don’t remember the words spoken

as you watched people

stride away. Like me.

 

But I remembered your face that day

and the words you

wanted to speak,

but couldn’t,

so you let your eyes converse instead.

Because it sounded so good,

like a violin crying in an abandoned house,

like a dog howling in the lonely ruins,

like a peacock singing in a desert dream,

and I remembered.Chant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse

 

Somewhere in the Middle East After One War Ended

 

Child in the classroom unable

to speak. Staring at the space in front

silent to the teachers urging.

 

Mouth refusing to shape

words that don’t come out, they died,

crumbled to dust and got lost

in the sands swirling not so very long ago.

 

What thoughts hold her back afraid

to open lips that might howl out secrets

best left hidden amidst the ruins

piled up like garbage?

 

Numb to the people, deaf

to the voices moving around, she hears

strange noises in her mind

deafening the songs

trying to rise up from a corner where

she stored them for safe keeping,

to make her smile.

 

Gunshots in the street,

 

the heavy fire of machine guns in

the dark of the night, a river

roaring through

nonstop taking with it the trees

uprooted, buildings collapsed.

 

Flares lighting up the

sky as she hid under

the bed seeing neon signs flash across

the sky through a hole in the roof

that brought in the sun during the day,

hot and burning, like the sting of the bullet

in her mother’s chest.

 

The guns are silenced for the moment,

only the distant low hum of

sporadic fire in some other town

not so far away.

 

People walk the streets unafraid, go about

their work like

nothing ever happened.

The past erased.

 

Yet the guns inside

her head continue to fire volley after volley

as she struggles to live each day.

 

Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?

Website: https://shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor

Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13850404.Shirani_Rajapakse

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/ShiraniRajapakse

Universal ebook link: https://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shiraniraj

LinkdIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiranirajapakse/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shiranirajapakse/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/shiraniraj/

 

Alright folks, it is that time again but I would like to say a heart felt thank you to Shirani for sharing with us and spending some time in her world today. Also, I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely readers out there for joining in and taking a moment to support your Authors.
If you or any of you know of someone who would like to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind, please send me a message or email me, kadecook.author@gmail.com.
Enjoy your Friday folks, you are awesome and please remember to be kind to your Authors, leave a review. See you in a couple of weeks, Peace.
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Featured

Featured in Indie Publishing News

Information about  Chant of a Million Women is featured in the Recently Released Books section of Indie Publishing News, Issue 16 September 2017. Go to page 28. My book blurb is also included here, but on page 20.

 

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Reading from Chant of a Million Women on The Book Speaks Podcast

Big thank you to Benjamin Douglas for featuring my work on his podcast. Episode 26. Go to the link here.

or check it out below.

Episode 26: Shirani Rajapakse

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Today I have a real treat for you: I’m reading from an indie-published poetry collection, Chant of a Million Women, by Shirana Rajapakse! Have a listen to the show for two of her poems, and check out her own poignant reading of another in this video:

As always, today’s readings are presented here with the author’s permission, and do not come from an official audiobook. Come back next week for another indie author reading! You can find Shirani online in these places:

WordPress    Facebook    Twitter

Pinterest    Instagram    linkedin

goodreads    Amazon

And you can find her book, Chant of a Million Women, at the following vendors:

Amazon    Lulu    Books2Read

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Vote for Chant of a Million Women

I’m so excited because my book was just nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards! Please vote for it at www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting

It is listed under the category General Fiction Book.

Here’s an excerpt of a review to give you an idea about the book.

“Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.” Sam Rose, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine

Featured

9 Ways to Improve AMS -Amazon Ads for Authors -David Gaugran’s post

Here’s an interesting post about AMS. 

9 Ways to Improve AMS – Amazon Ads For Authors

More product searches start on Amazon than anywhere else, even Google. It’s the world’s biggest bookstore and by far the largest ebook retailer.

But Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is still very much a work-in-progress, particularly the slightly pared-back version authors get to advertise books.

Self-publishers tend to focus on making books visible on Amazon. Aside from being a market leader, and having famed frictionless purchasing, there is another key reason why such a focus often gets the best return. Unlike other popular sites, anyone visiting Amazon is generally there for one reason: to buy stuff. You aren’t interrupting them while they share dank memes with friends, or search how fast a raven can fly during winter.

AMS is often referred to as “new” but it has been around for more than two years now. While AMS offers a variety of ads to third-party sellers which can increase app downloads, drive traffic to websites, or boost sales, we’ll specifically focus on the bits open to self-publishers: the Sponsored Product ads and Product Display ads for selling books.

AMS has seen an explosion in popularity this year, with a range of courses and webinars and books and workshops all promising to teach you how to be an AMS whiz. They are probably all over-egging it at least a little bit, because the platform is fundamentally under-developed, and hasn’t changed much from what was first launched in beta a couple of years ago (and I’m told it has implemented little of the feedback provided by beta testers).

Success on AMS is tricky to attain, frustratingly fleeting, and difficult to scale. There are some pretty basic flaws with the system that are holding us back from becoming better advertisers.

The marketing world is filled with talk of Amazon plans to take on the dominant duo of Facebook and Google in the advertising space. I have a bit of experience in this area, having previously worked for Google AdWords and managed multi-million dollar campaigns. I recently refreshed my AdWords certification to make sure those skills are up to date, I’ve been running Facebook campaigns for several years now, gaining a pretty good understanding of that endlessly complex platform, and I have gained some good experience recently with BookBub ads also.

One thing is clear: Amazon has quite a bit of work to do if they are going to convince large brands and big marketing agencies to spend significant portions of their budgets on AMS.

I think we can assume Amazon isn’t done iterating, though, and with that in mind I’ve pulled together some suggestions on how to make things better for everyone – authors getting a better return when advertising their books, Amazon themselves through increased advertiser spend, and readers too in the form of more relevant and useful ads.

Some of this feedback is quite negative – actually nearly all of it is very negative indeed – but the sole motive is to get features and tools which will allow me to be a smarter advertiser, one who can spend more at AMS. I hope it’s taken with that spirit in mind.

1. Support

One of the first obstacles you might run into is ads getting rejected, often for unfathomable or inapplicable reasons, and any appeals regarding same can take seven days or more to process as AMS has no actual direct support at the moment, and everything must go via KDP – and customer service agents there don’t seem to know the policies very well.

This isn’t good enough. We’re spending enough money on the platform to get actual support. Remember, we’re not suppliers in this context, we are customers of the AMS platform, and Amazon’s famed customer focus is a little blurry here. We shouldn’t have to wait seven days for a response to an email. It usually means the money I planned to spend on AMS gets spent on Facebook or BookBub instead.

Some examples of how this plays out in practice:

I was split testing different creatives for Let’s Get Digital. One focused on how it was endorsed by many other writers, and I had some phrasing like “the guide that bestsellers recommend.” That was rejected as books can’t claim bestseller status without it being proven. But the ad wasn’t claiming bestseller status (even though it has actually sold enough), it was claiming the book was endorsed by bestsellers, which is demonstrably true, and visibly so on the product page. Anyway, I went around in this loop with Amazon, with seven days between responses, and wasn’t getting anywhere so I just changed the ad. The next ad text said it had “over 300 five-star reviews” and that was rejected for referring to reviews “which are dynamic and can change.” Maybe that was an edge case anyway, fair enough.

An author friend has written a romance novel which has the words “Rock Star” in the title. But her ad was rejected and her appeals ignored on the grounds that Amazon has rules about referring to the star-rating in ads. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that Amazon is testing out some kind of customer service AI, with decidedly mixed results.

2. Making Changes

After you have set up your campaign and navigated any potential rejection issues, you may realize you made an error in your ad text, or you might have thought of something snappier. If you want to go back and edit your creative, sorry, that’s not possible. You have to start a brand new campaign, and lose any positive click/purchase history on your keywords. Everything should be editable once a campaign is live. This is pretty basic stuff, something a smaller platform like BookBub can easily handle, let alone Facebook.

And it’s not just ad text. On Amazon, you can’t change your campaign name once it is live, meaning you can be left with the garbled nonsense that inexplicably forms the default text. You can change your bids, but you only individually. When you have 1,000 keywords in a campaign, this can take quite some time indeed.

As a result, people often just copy the campaign and start again. But then the new campaign will have wildly different results, on all metrics. Impressions, clicks, and sales can all be dramatically different for reasons that are completely indiscernible, which I’ll talk about more below.

3. Reporting Delays

As anyone who has ran an AMS campaign will know, it can take three days or more before sales will appear in your ads dashboard. Problem is that clicks (and related costs) come in sooner than that, and impressions come in even quicker. You might see impressions on the first day and clicks on the next, but often have to wait until the third day to see if that exposure and spend is turning into sales. This makes it really tricky to measure success.

Maybe this isn’t an simple problem to solve (but I’d note BookBub does it far better). It would be better if all numbers had the same delay. I don’t mind as much if it takes AMS three days to report impressions. If clicks, sales, and impressions are coming in at the same time, then I can measure things properly. Right now, it’s impossible.

4. No Customization

AMS requires a lot of trial and error, and that when you get something to work, you are often loathe to touch it in case it stops working. This means you can have several pages of campaigns, with most of them defunct and no way to archive them, or organize your account in any useful way. Even crudely ordering the dash by Campaign Status will put the Terminated accounts on the top, meaning the active ones can spill onto the next page.

What we really need is more tools to see the data we need in an instant, so we can make smarter decisions (i.e. spend more money on ads that are more relevant to customers). I should be able to filter Active campaigns only. I should then be able to slice and dice those campaigns and order by ACoS or Impressions or Spend or whatever I want. Again, this is pretty basic stuff that every competing platform can handle. AdWords, for example, had this functionality ten or fifteen years ago.

5. No Filters

On that note, I should also be able to filter my dashboard by date so I can see what served today, or what my spend was this week, etc. At the moment, everyone is flying blind. We only get cumulative lifetime numbers, which is crazy! To find out what you spend in the last week, or yesterday, or in July, you have to manually track those numbers as you go along. There is no way of doing it after the fact.

Again, this is standard at Google and Facebook and BookBub and anywhere else that has a paid advertising platform. Why Amazon doesn’t provide this basic data is beyond me. Again, it’s preventing me from making smart decisions, and the dumb money is flushing out the savvy advertiser – threatening the long term-health of the platform, for everyone, including Amazon. I could track it manually, but I just don’t have the time. Which means I either don’t do it and make bad decision on AMS… or spend the money elsewhere.

6. Sales & ACoS

This is a big one. Sales and ACoS are the two metrics we use to judge the success of our campaigns. But they aren’t reliable. ACoS is just a function of Sales, so I’ll focus on the latter.

We are given just the raw sale price of any books sold as a result of an AMS ad. So if my book retails for $2.99, that’s the number that will appear in the Sales column, regardless of whether I received 70% royalties or 35% royalties for that particular sale, or whether delivery fees were deducted, etc. Needless to say it would be much more valuable to get a number related to what I’m actually receiving for that sale.

Much more serious is the problem related to paperback sales. I could have an e-book retailing for $4.99 and a paperback retailing for $12.99. All of these sales are just thrown together. So I could see Spend on one campaign of $16 and Sales of $25.98, and conclude that the campaign is profitable. However, if that figure relates to two paperback sales rather than a number of e-book sales, I could be making a huge loss. And because we only get cumulative lifetime numbers (which is completely nuts), it becomes impossible to tell over time whether the sales number contains paperback sales which are hugely skewing the numbers.

The net result is that we end up wasting lots of money on unprofitable campaigns. This is unsustainable for Amazon, and means readers are getting served more untargeted ads than they should.

7. Information Vacuum

We are constantly guessing with AMS. Did this previously successful and ROI-positive campaign stop working because it had a low CTR overall? Will it restart if I prune the worst keywords? We never really know for sure.

Facebook ads can stop mysteriously too, but it’s usually a case of fiddling with a few things to get them running again. With AMS, this process is maddening. You can go through the laborious process of upping your bids on hundreds or thousands of keywords, and you will have to wait three days to see if that has done the trick – and have to manually compare the numbers to see if any effect is present, because all we get is cumulative lifetime data. (Have I said how crazy that is?)

And even if you go through all that rigmarole, you might just find that you misdiagnosed the reason, and that your ads haven’t resumed their previous level of serving. A standard process of elimation that can take a few hours on Facebook or BookBub can take days or weeks on AMS. Often you just give up and start a new campaign. Which then has completely different results for equally indiscernible reasons.

I know that Amazon is famously tight-lipped. I know how tech companies operate. They want all your data, but don’t want to share any of theirs. Even their data about you!

But, really, some more information about how AMS works will make us better advertisers. When I worked at Google they were just beginning the process of being more open about how everything worked, and now they have a full outreach effort teaching advertisers how the system works and what best practices are. I hope Amazon goes on a similar journey – it really does benefit everyone, without needing to compromise any proprietary information.

8. More Relevancy

Did I mention I want to be a better advertiser? This is important, not just so I can get a good return and add to my already impressive collection of Fabergé eggs, but also so that we are all serving more relevant ads to customers, which will increase user trust in the ads, and increase CTRs, and make the ads more viable, and make everyone more money, including Amazon.

I’m sure relevancy is a factor in the ad auction somewhere, but because AMS is a total black box, I don’t know what exact role it plays – which makes it harder to optimize my campaigns. Is it better to have multiple 1,000 keyword campaigns, for the same book, targeting every tangentially comparable author and title, and to prune as I go? Or is it better to regularly start new campaigns with all my keyword winners from each campaign into one keyword supergroup?

I have my suspicions that the relevancy or quality score the system assigns is at a keyword level rather than at a campaign (or account) level, but can anyone really say that for sure? There could also be campaign-relevancy weighting applied at a lower level. Or I could be wrong. AMS isn’t easy to figure out.

I can say this though: whatever relevancy is built into the system isn’t weighted heavily enough. The penalty for being a bad advertiser is too low. (By bad advertiser, I mean someone serving untargeted ads – taking a scattergun approach and just targeting anything and everything.) Which means the dumb money is flushing out the good advertisers. Which means the ads will get less relevant and more expensive over time, which means users will click on them less, and so on. I’d argue this process is well underway already.

Increasing the relevancy factor in deciding which ad is served will have the opposite effect. It’s the long-term view, the one I hope Amazon will take, and the one which will cut across their core proposition less – i.e. the aim to show customers the products they are most likely to purchase.

You know what else could help? Some more options other than just “broad” keywords. I think “exact match” options are available in the wider AMS system, it would be good to see that here too, given that particular innovation hit AdWords in the early 2000s.

9. For The Love of All Things Holy: Borrow Data

This is tricky for Amazon for two reasons: first, it’s something that would have to be engineered specifically for us. Second, KDP doesn’t currently give authors borrow data. We get reads, but can only estimate borrows. And not very accurately either.

That said, we really need borrow data. The key metrics of Sales and ACoS are already a little misleading for reasons mentioned above, but being in KU ads another twist. Borrows are a function of visibility, so AMS ads can and do have a positive effect on reads in our KDP dashboard. But we don’t get any metrics in AMS related to them. Ebook sales, paperback sales, and that’s it. No borrow data – and reads often make the difference between a profitable campaign and a money loser. At the moment, we can only guess, which means we are probably often killing good campaigns and letting bad ones roll.

Summary

AMS has huge potential. Huge. But it hasn’t developed much since launch. Reporting is like an early beta that should have been updated before going live. It’s amazing that the only data we get is cumulative lifetime numbers. It makes it difficult to optimize, and hugely time consuming too.

The tools we do have just aren’t fit for purpose. Most of the major issues above surround problems related to reporting, presentation of data, and general usability – basic issues which should have been resolved already at this point.

AMS is also too much of a black box. Amazon doesn’t really share how the system works in any kind of detail – it’s all pretty vague and opaque – and we can’t figure it out because we aren’t given enough data. I’ve been running AMS ads all year on and off, and I’m not entirely confident I can say that I’ve gotten that much better at using the platform – which stands in marked contrast to BookBub, and even Facebook, despite it’s incredible complexity and constant changes.

If we had more data and better tools, everyone would benefit – Amazon and readers too.

* * *

I’m very open to the possibility that I’m a dumbass, so if I’m talking nonsense above or you have solved any of these issues, or have any general AMS tips, I’m happy to hear them in the comments!

 

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Book Review in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine

Check out the review below or go to Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine to read poems by other writers in Issue 29, September 2017.

Editor’s Book Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse

This month I had the joy of reading Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan poet and fiction writer.

This poetry collection covers lots of themes, including identity, relationships, freedom, dignity, war, struggle and rape, but its main message is captured in the title poem, “Chant of a Million Women”, which opens with:

My body is a temple, not

a halfway house you enter for

temporary shelter from

the heat and dust swirling through trees.

This poem really embodies the spirit of the whole collection, giving women a voice, a reminder of our self-worth and ownership of our own bodies.

“I Live in Dreams” is a mingling of dreams, reality and longing, and a similar mix of melancholy and hope can be found throughout the collection. In particular, “Asking for It” is a powerful commentary on rape and victim-blaming culture, and “Unwanted” is short but touching, and one of my favourites. “To Dance with the Wind” has some wonderful imagery which really did make me feel like I had been picked up and taken by the wind.

Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Chant of a Million Women is available in print from Lulu.com and Amazon, and also as an eBook at http://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse.

You can also find Shirani Rajapakse in Flash Fiction International, Mascara Literary Review, Asian Cha, Deep Water Literary Review, Dove Tales, Earthen Lamp Journal and City Journal, among others.

Sam Rose

>^..^<

 

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The Poems in Chant

Several issues are discussed in Chant of a Million Women. There’s also quite a range of emotions carefully placed between the pages. In the following weeks I’ll talk about a few poems.

Image may contain: shoes and text But I’ll start with the first poem. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” This not only sets the stage as it were to the collection but it also kind of pulls in the idea of the role of women from history to the present not being very different.

The influence for the poem was a statue of a woman at the side of a mandir (temple) in India. The old beautiful carvings on the outsides of temples depict women in many poses. Almost all of them are of women with large breasts and voluptuous hips.

I’ve traveled a lot in India and seen many interesting places. Since I like art, history and culture my travels tend to take me to places where I can find all of this in abundance and the old temples are a definite must see on my itinerary.

Viewing the statues and images I came across an interesting find. In quite a few of the images of women in the carvings in mandirs and abandoned places the breasts were darker and I used to wonder why, until one day I saw why when I turned a corner in a lonely mandir and surprised a devout follower of whatever God resided inside that mandir.

The image of that encounter I witness stayed in my mind although I wrote about it many years later.

At the Side of the Old Mandir

 

They come to this place every day

to touch you.

Lonely men with desires unfulfilled.

Can’t afford the real thing, costs too much

these days, a glance, a caress.

They can barely afford food for the day.

 

You’re the best they can have;

voluptuousness in stone.

They ogle and marvel, then

gradually draw nearer.

A furtive glance in every direction to check

if anyone’s watching and a hand

lifts up to cup a breast.

Human and rock merge for a blissful moment.

An eternity passes as time

drags itself to a screeching halt.

Sighs of contentment escape.

 

Satiated temporarily,

they return to a place at a distance,

to admire and hope.

 

Later, moving inside they speak to God, plead

with him, cajole, sometimes demand.

Karma always questioned in times like this.

A truth hard to accept.

The reasons why never defined, lying hidden

in the cosmic ether beyond their

comprehension.

 

Your breasts are a shade darker than

the rest of your body,

colored from constant caresses of

lonesome men seeking stolen pleasures.

A slow smile playing on your lips, one arm

resting on a hip pushed out to the side,

the other raised from the elbow,

fingers encircling lotus, you stand waiting

for what might be, as they shuffle past,

circumambulating

like the devout, softly singing praise

of the one within.

Quietly taking in their fill they return to

homes devoid of love and desire.

 

Who are you,

proud woman standing nonchalantly

gazing into the distance as they walk past?

What was your fate?

Willed by the hand that chiseled

you from a large rock hewn out from

another place one sunny day eons ago.

Who was the man that yearned for you so,

he cast you in stone in remembrance

to watch over the years

and give hope to

a multitude of desperate souls?

 

This idea behind the incident I saw and the image of the dark breasted statues reminded me of something I saw in a telephone booth on a street in London. This was a time before the mobile phone and if you needed to make a call you’d use a public phone. I don’t know if those still exist, but one of the things that greeted you when you entered one of those phone boxes was a whole load of calling cards with photos of women, much like the statues of the women in those ancient temples. It appeared as though modern women were trying to emulate the statues which were probably carved out by men who were seeking the ideal woman and not finding that around them, they were creating images in stone.

It seemed very sad. We’d come so far yet as women we hadn’t given up the notion of pleasing others – of turning our bodies into objects of pleasure for men and it didn’t matter that we were getting exploited as well. “On a Street in London” ends the collection. Between those two poems there’s just about every emotion and situation women have faced, put down in verse.