Monday, 29 September 2014

Kati of Terra Book 3, Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers now in print form on Amazon

Kati 3 is now available in print, from Amazon.  All the Kati of Terra books can now be purchased in ebook or print form.  They are also on Amazon's price matching offer, where you get the ebook for 99 cents if you buy the paper book.  The paper books are about sixteen dollars (it can vary with Amazon promotions, exchange rates, and so on).

Friday, 26 September 2014

Astrophysics Corner, Part 12 – Cats in Space

I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t think of the phrase “Cats in Space” without hearing the lead-in to the old “Pigs in Space” skits from the Muppet Show.
But, no matter.  Since we recently did a literary blog about Cats in Science Fiction, it seems appropriate to do an astrophysics blog about Cats in Space, or at least cat images and symbols in astronomy.  There actually have been cats in space, which we will get to later.  But first, let’s look at astronomical features named after cats, beginning with some constellations.

This is one of the really great constellations for urban star-gazers.  It has many bright stars and actually looks something like the thing that it is named after – i.e. a lion.  That would be the Nemean Lion that Hercules slew, as one of his twelve labours.  This cat took helpless maidens to his cave, to lure warriors to their deaths, in their efforts to free the women.  It was impervious to weaponry, so Hercules killed it with his bare hands.  Zeus then put the lion in  the sky to commemorate the deed, so we can enjoy Leo to this day.  Or so the story goes.

From my part of the world, Leo is best seen in the early spring evening sky, looking south, a little above the plane of the ecliptic.  Clearly that will vary with latitude, though.  It’s not too hard to envision it as a lion, or at least some kind of animal, as the constellation map  shows.
It has many bright stars, notably Regulus (think of it as the lion’s right foot)  and Denobela (the end of the tail).  There are also some nice double stars, that can be split in smaller telescopes.  Gamma Leonis is a favorite of amateur astronomers.  It also contains the small M-Class star, Wolf 359, famous in Star Trek history for the location of a decisive battle with the Borg.

Leo also has several notable deep sky objects, especially the galaxies M65, M66, M105 and M96 (those are known as Messier numbers).  Though they are quite bright deep sky objects, I haven’t had a lot of luck finding them from my city back yard.  But they are pretty easy in a reasonably dark sky.
The meteor shower known as the Leonids occurs in November, and appears to come from that part of the sky.  That shower can be pretty remarkable.  I recall seeing some amazing meteors in the early 2000s, including some that broke up in the atmosphere with a spectacular fireball effect.

Note that since Leo is near the plane of the ecliptic, the planets sometimes pass through it, which can be useful for orienting observations.

Leo (Minor)
This one’s kind of a dud really.  It is quite small, and its stars are all rather faint.  Even in a dark sky, it’s pretty tough to make it out (it’s above Leo, if you can recognize it).  It has some interesting galaxies, but you need a dark sky and a good telescope to make them out.  There is no interesting mythology associated with Leo Minor, as it wasn’t designated until the late 1600s.
This is another very faint constellation in the northern sky, without much to note about it.  Supposedly, it was designated Lynx because you need the eyesight of a cat to see it.  It does have an interesting globular cluster (NGC 2419), which is high above the galactic plane.  It is supposed to be findable in a reasonably dark sky with a medium sized telescope.
Cat’s Eye Nebula
This is a classic planetary nebular, and a very beautiful one, as you can see from the Hubble photo.  The term planetary is a misnomer, given early in the history of telescope observations, as they look something like planets through a small telescope.

It is located in the constellation Draco, high in the northern sky.  In fact, it is very close to the north ecliptic pole, similar to how Polaris is close to the North Equatorial Pole.  In other words, it is 90 degrees above the sun’s position.

The concentric rings are actually bubbles of dust, produced by a central star that has ejected some of its matter, late in its life.  The colours depend on the type of matter that is in each ring and some of the other structural features are probably related to magnetic fields. 
The sun might look something like this in several billion years, as stars in that mass range are thought to go through this stage.
The important thing here, is that it does look rather like a cat’s eye.

Cat’s Paw Nebula
This is another spectacular nebula, in Scorpio.  It is obvious why it is called the Cat’s Paw from the picture.  In this case, the nebula is an emission nebula, similar to the Orion nebula.  Rather than being an artifact of a star near the end of its life, it is in fact the birthplace of new stars.  In fact, it is an extremely prolific birthplace, and may well be said to be having kittens.

Mars (face, cat, mouse)
A fair bit of cat lore has accreted around the planet Mars since the space age began, and we started sending probes there.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the so-called Face on Mars, in the Cydonia region.  Many observers have claimed that it has a leonine (lion-like) appearance.  Several books have been written on the subject, claiming that it is not a natural object.  There have also been proposals that it has a link to the Sphinx, in Egypt, which also has a lion-like appearance (a hybrid lion body and human head).   Those who wish to read more about this might start with the wiki page:

Also worth noting is the so-called cat on Mars, though I don’t believe any books have been written about it.  It falls into that category we looked at earlier (pareidolia), whereby humans have a tendency to see familiar figures in random configurations of shapes.

And since a Martian Cat obviously needs a food source, here’s another picture that someone discovered in the Curiosity rover’s archives.  Yes, it looks amazingly like a Mars Mouse.

Fellicite the astro-cat
Finally, there is the story of the cats who actually did go into space.  I didn’t know about this until recently, but apparently the French launched a couple of cats into space in the 1960s.  From a NASA site:

On October 18, 1963, French scientists launched the first cat into space on a Veronique AGI sounding rocket No. 47. The cat, named FĂ©licette, was successfully retrieved after a parachute descent, but a second feline flight on October 24 ran into difficulties that prevented recovery.


So there you have it – a comprehensive list of cat related lore concerning the sciences of astrophysics, astronomy and astronautics.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kati of Terra Book 3, print on demand version

We hit the publish button last night, but it can take a day or two for it to be up on Amazon. We will put up a link a bit later.  It is also available from the Createspace store.

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Cats in Science Fiction

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series

Sept 4, 2014 Garneau Pub, Edmonton, Alberta

Part Seventeen – Cats and Science Fiction

Question: We have long wanted to do a conversation about cats and Science Fiction, and just generally about cats in fiction.  This is highly appropriate for an internet blog, since as we all know, the internet is made of cats.
But, in addition to these general considerations, an even better motivator is that your children’s story “The Summer Cottage Mystery – A Children’s Story” , which prominently features a lost kitten, made #1 in and over the Labour Day long weekend.

Answer (Helena): Yes, that was nice, though I wouldn’t want to go overboard about it, since it was a couple of niche children’s categories and it was a “free days” promotion.

Question: Well, it was a mix of free downloads, Kindle Unlimited borrows, and later sales.  And it’s not easy to get people’s attention, even with “free”, as every blogger knows.  To be precise about the categories, they were:

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Detectives

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Animals

Answer (Helena): Well, thanks for the ego boost.

Question: It’s all part of the job.  By the way, you have featured a cat as a major character in your Witches’ Stones SF series.  Cats (the felines) also play a minor role in the Kati of Terra series.  We will talk about all that a little later, after discussing cat tropes in Science Fiction, and see where your “Green Cat” alien of Witches’ Stones and the felines of Kati of Terra fit in.  But first, let’s talk about the cats that we have known and loved (or feared) in popular SF.   That way, we can discuss the symbolic importance of cats to the SF genre by talking about particular cases.

To begin, let’s go to that semi-infinite well of SF lore known as Star Trek.  Any thoughts?

Answer (Helena): I guess the first use of cats in Star Trek that comes to my mind, is in the final episode of the original series.  In that one, Kirk and Spock have to stop the launch of an orbital nuclear weapons platform during the 1960s cold war, that endangers the future of the Earth.  But the meet an agent, Gary Seven, who is on an identical mission.  The key element here is that Gary Seven has a peculiar cat he calls Isis.

Question: Isis was the goddess of fertility in ancient Egypt, if I recall correctly.  Cats were very important in ancient Egypt and Isis was a key figure in their mythology. So, that’s an obvious hint to the cat symbolism of in the episode.

Answer (Helena): Yes, it is never shown on screen, but it’s pretty clear that Isis the cat and a beautiful woman who also appears in the episode are one and the same.  It also seems clear that she and Gary Seven are romantically involved.

Question: Yes, she is shown to be jealous of the other female character in the story, who was played by a young Terri Garr.  That was an unforgettable performance, by the way.

Answer (Helena): Well, a young Terri Garr would have that effect on you.  At any rate, the symbolism here seems to involve the intrinsic mystery of cats, as well as their (usually) feminine nature and sexual overtones.  Part of the cats’ mysterious nature is portrayed by the character’s apparent ability to shape shift or appear out of nowhere. Cats have a way of suddenly showing up in the real world, too.  And the fact that the cat shapes shifts into a beautiful woman conforms to the stereotype of the cat being associated with the feminine principle.  It’s not often that you see tom cats in these fictionalizations.

Question:  I can think of at least one case where the cat may be more representative of male sexuality.  That’s the scene in the movie “Forbidden Planet” where the captain is coming on to the very fetching virginal daughter of the “mad scientist” whom the space craft crew discover on the planet.  His attempted seduction is interrupted by the attack of a protective big cat, a panther or cougar I think.  It seems that the cat’s function is to protect the innocent young woman’s sexual purity, to forestall the seduction, which seems like a male role.  It’s a late 1950’s movie, so I suppose protecting a young woman’s purity was a major preoccupation of the era.

Answer (Helena): I think perhaps the big cat is meant to be a psychological manifestation in the real world, a reification of the libido or the super-ego perhaps, protecting the ego from the drives of the id.  The movie seemed to have a lot of Freudian theory baked into it.

Question:  So, is the cat symbolic of a male or female principle in this case?  Does it represent a sort of father figure, protecting the woman?  Or is it a female energy that the woman herself calls up, to maintain her “honour”?

Answer (Helena): It all depends whether you see this through a Freudian or Jungian lens.  In Freudian terms, the jealous or protective male energy seems likely.  In Jungian terms, you could go with either the shadow of the animus.

Question:  Expand on that a bit.

Answer (Helena): The animus is supposed to be the male psychic counterpart of a woman - the inner man.  The shadow is the “less good” part of the person, usually thought to be the same gender as the person in question.  Either way, the scene in the movie seems to involve protecting the young woman from becoming a sexual being, sexually active.  I suppose any creature could have been used in this role, but the cat’s association with sexuality makes it a natural.

Question:  And, for the record, the captain kills the cat with his laser pistol, but also snaps out of the intended seduction.  Make of that, what you will.

Answer (Helena): Sounds like a perfect 1950’s resolution to the problem.

Question:  OK, getting back to Star Trek, I want to mention the Catspaw episode, which I always think of as a Halloween episode.  In that one, an alien from another galaxy presents herself as a cat, and also transforms her male partner into a giant cat, that threatens the landing party.  How’s that for confusing sexual symbolism?

Answer (Helena): Yes, very confusing.  But, if I recall correctly, this alien wants to destroy, to take over the galaxy.  So, in addition to the sexual symbolism of the cat, we have the trope that an evil impulse lurks in the mind of the cat.  That harkens to the notion of that cat as the familiar of evil forces or as evil itself.

Question: And the cat wants to rule the universe.  What cat owner hasn’t felt that way, from time to time.

Answer (Helena): Here’s a final example of cats and SF from Star Trek.  This example is much more benign than the others.  Data and his cat, Spot.

Question: Of course.  I would say that Spot was a kind of teacher for Data.

Answer (Helena): Spot was also a kind of antithesis of Data.  Data was logic, Spot was emotion.  Data was mechanical, Spot was the very essence of organic creature-hood, a cat.  Data was an analyst and a planner, Spot was instinctive and reactive.  Data recognized that, and in a sense, learned a lot about being human from Spot.  Which is to say, Spot helped him learn more about the creaturely side of our nature.

Question: Ok, so much for Star Trek.  How about another SF series that very prominently featured a cat, or at least a sort of cat-human hybrid?

Answer (Helena): That would be the cat-human in Red Dwarf, who descended a pet house cat. 

Question: In fact a whole species of intelligent (but not very intelligent) cats evolved from Lister’s cat Frankenstein.  That was a lot of fun, but perhaps not very profound.

Answer (Helena): Maybe not, but it did play upon some of our other stereotypes about cats.

Question: Preening, arrogant and narcissistic.  That’s what you mean, right?

Answer (Helena): And I will just add the contradictory qualities shared by Red Dwarf’s “The Cat” and our companion animal “the cat”:

·         Stupid, yet somehow sly and smart.

·         Brave, yet often cowardly.

·         Confident, but also very shy.

·         Sociable, but also very independent and introverted.

Cats are a contradiction, which is probably a big part of their attraction for humans. 

Question: Let’s quickly go through a few others.  There’s the final episode of the “Ace” Doctor Who, which featured a sort of Cheetah people.  They hunted down humans and sometimes transformed them into one of the cheetah species.
Answer (Helena): Yes, the cat as hunter.  That’s fundamental to its nature.  As humans, we are impressed by that, but also fear it.  After all, we have been hunted by big cats through the ages, and still are occasionally.  It makes sense that SF would play upon that fear, upping the ante by making the hunter cats intelligent as well.
Question: How about Harry Potter?
Answer (Helena): Crookshank had a sort of protector role.  It kept an eye out for Voldemort, protecting Harry.
Question: That makes sense.  Cats do protect us, from mice if nothing else.  Though I doubt Voldemort would be happy being compared to a mouse.
Answer (Helena): And for those who want to continue the exploration of the subject of Cats in SF, they might want to look into the books of Andre Norton or CJ Cherry, who featured cat aliens in several novels.
Question: Let’s not forget to talk about your own use of cats in Science Fiction. In the Witches’ Stones series, you feature an alien creature known as “the Green Cat”.  What role does it play?
Answer (Helena): Well, my Green Cat is intelligent and helpful to the heroine, Sarah MacKenzie.  It is highly psychic and helps Sarah develop her own psychic powers, which are needed in a cold war against a galactic dictatorship that wants to take over a democratic Earth and it’s alliance.  It doesn’t require the amartos or Witches’ Stones to help it amplify its ESP abilities, the way that humans like Sarah do.  So, in this case the Green Cat plays the helpful friend, mentor and protector role.  In fact, it is not just Sarah’s friend, but the friend of humanity in general.
Question: The way cat’s can be, on their good days.  And what about the Kati of Terra series.  A cat species plays a critical but minor role, does it not?
Answer (Helena): Yes, the felines are the creatures that actually abduct Kati for Earth in the first book of the series.  They are in the employ of the evil slaver Gorsh, though, hardly masterminds.  Just criminals for hire.
Question: Well, that’s the way cats can be on their bad days.  And for our blog audience, here is a somewhat “Cats in Science Fiction” themed cartoon, from that storehouse of internet humour,

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Portal for Souls - Art Installation by Leona Olausen and partners

A Portal for Souls would be a good title for an SF novel, but in this case it refers to an art installation, based on Celtic mythology, by Leona Olausen and two partners.  They won first prize - a decent amount of money in the judged competition and the people's choice in the voting competiton.

Leona is the artist that has done a number of our covers, notably the Kati of Terra and Witches' Stones novels and the short story The Summer Cottage Mystery.  Her partners in this were Sharon Fostermoore and Wanda Resek.

Here are some links to the work - to a photo album (12 pics) and a video (about 2 and a half minutes, with some nice soft music accompaning it).!/DodecahedronBooks/photos/a.357246777766193.1073741841.184710518353154/357246791099525/?type=1&theater

Here's Leona's artwork on Kati 1, which I think is a smoking great cover, and lots of people seem to agree.

She also has work on Seeme and other art sites, such as Visual Arts of Alberta.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Regarding Cats and the Japanese Culture (and possibley book sales)

A blog or two back, I noted that our story “The Summer Cottage Mystery- A Children’s Story” did surprisingly well in Japan.  The story centers around some “child detectives” search for a lost cat, so I speculated that the success in Japan might have something to do with cats and Japanese culture.  Mostly, I was just extrapolating from the “Hello Kitty” phenomenon.

But, a couple of days ago, the Globe and Mail Report on Business had the following sidebar story, set within a larger article about casinos, gambling and Japan:

Beckoning cat

Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Sopinski

Maneki-neko or "beckoning cat" figurines are good luck charms found in homes and businesses throughout Japan.

Usually taking the form of a calico cat, it calls out to customers, visitors and passersby with an upraised paw. There is some debate as to the significance of which paw is raised.

Likewise, there is much uncertainty as to the lucky cat's origins but most likely it dates back to sometime during the Edo period (1603-1868). Maneki-neko are often seen wearing a gold medallion representing a coin from the Edo period, with the inscription noting its value, 10 million ryo.

The medallion reinforces the notion of good fortune or wealth.

So, the positive associations with cats go back a long way in Japanese culture.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Anatomy of a Successful Amazon Promotion (Part 2 - Covers)

As noted in an earlier blog, we had Helena Puumala’s story “The Summer Cottage Mystery - A Children’s Story” on KDP Select’s “free days” promotion over the Labor Day weekend.  In other words, the story was available for free download from Thursday August 27 to Monday Sept 1, 2014.  It turned out to be quite a successful promotion - by Labor Day, it was Number 1 or Number 2 in two categories, on both (the U.S. store) and Amazon.UK (the British Store):

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Detectives

·         Children’s Books/Animals/Cats

In an earlier blog, I looked at the trend in sales over that period by day and by Amazon store (geography).  The two main points were:

·         You won’t necessarily see a nice linear trend in sales/downloads.  Things can stay stable for a few days, then take off.  Momentum builds on itself - nothing succeeds like success.

·         It’s not easy to hit really big numbers without the help of the U.S. market.  However, the smaller markets can foreshadow later progress in the bigger markets. That’s even true of markets outside the English speaking world.

In this blog, I will look a couple of the main factors that might have caused the positive reception for the books, especially two that are widely thought to be influential – cover and title.

Covers  and Titles  (Children’s Books/Animals/Cats)

The strip of images below shows some representative covers in the category Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Animals/Cats.  I decided not to simply use the top 5 books, as they all related to the same series (“Warriors” – I guess it is a cat thing).
It seems clear that having an image of a cat is very common in this category – no surprise.  In a couple of cases the cat image was small, once overshadowed by a dog and once a bit too small to be clearly made out.  The Summer-Cottage Mystery cover’s cat is very prominent and, in fact, is the only image on the cover.  The others tend to be quite a bit busier.  So, in this category, having a strong, eye-catching cat image seems to have been very helpful.
In the matter of fonts, there is quite a variety.  Many of these are “fat fonts”, which are meant to appeal to a younger child, I suppose.  There is also a lot of curviness to these fonts, arcing across the page and so forth.  The Summer-Cottage Mystery cover’s font was Times New Roman.  That seems to go against the grain, in this case, though it worked, as plenty of people downloaded the book or bought it.  It is possible that a more grown-up font may have attracted a parent’s eye, or might have attracted a child’s interest as being different. 

The other main visual element is colour.  Most of the covers went in for lots of colour, primarily pastels or earth tones.  I imagine the idea is that those are soothing colours that would appeal to kids.  The Summer-Cottage Mystery cover’s colours were very muted, if not to say black and white.  Again, that goes against convention, though it worked.  Once more, it could have been a case of a different visual style standing out and attracting attention.
The cat on The Summer-Cottage Mystery cover was fairly naturalistically rendered, though it did come from a drawing (by our artist, Leona Olausen).  The others were done in more of a cartoon style. 
So, the upshot seems to be that The Summer-Cottage Mystery went along with the cat image, but deviated in the matter of font, colour, image style and general business.  So, perhaps it was a matter of being similar enough to fit into the important genre trope, but different enough to stand out.

In terms of the title, there was a tendency to use the word “cat” or some variation (3 of five books).  We didn’t use that, but the cat image was probably good enough to put the idea across, that this book involves a cat in some way.  It is possible that the sub-title “A Children’s Story” was helpful, to ensure that prospective readers (children and parents) were aware that this mystery would not be violent or very scary.
Cover (Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Detectives)
Once again, I decided against using a selection from the top 10, as they were dominated by a few series (especially Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys - some things never change).  The selection below are drawn from a bit further down the rankings, though still quite high.
The first thing that strikes one, is that the images in this category appear to be intended for an older audience.  Whereas the cat book covers seem to be directed at the pre-school to mid-elementary market, these pictures look like they are intended for a later elementary to junior high crowd.
In this group, the Summer-Cottage Mystery also stands out, as quite different from the rest.  The other covers have fairly complex, somewhat photo-realistic artwork.  They are more likely to feature people and landscapes.  Perhaps the saving grace of our cat image in this bunch is that it too is fairly photo-realistic, and therefore can appeal to this slightly older demographic.

These covers also tend to portray an element of mystery.  The cat picture actually does this as well, when seen closer up – it started off as a witch’s cat on an SF cover for a book directed at grown-ups.  We didn’t use the cat for that cover at the time – that was probably a mistake – I didn’t realize the power of cats, especially in the on-line world J.
The Times New Roman font probably also helps to position the cover to be acceptable to an older child.  It appears that covers meant to appeal to this group are transitioning from the cartoonish fonts to more staid, traditional fonts.
Similarly with the colours.  Generally they are fairly muted in these covers, so the grey background and the black and white cat don’t necessarily seem out of place.
The titles generally telegraphed something of the content of the stories.  The term “Mystery” was on three books (including ours), while one of the others used the term “caper” and another used the term “code name”.  Only “Summer in the Woods” departed from that tendency.
In summary, the Summer-Cottage Mystery cover appears to have resonated with viewers in both the “Cats” and “Detectives” categories.    It seems to have hit some tropes of each category, but also was sufficiently counter to some other tropes to stand out, catch the eye and make the potential reader curious.  This was just fortuitous – certainly not planned.  To be honest, I put the cover together fairly quickly, without a lot of thinking, going by instinct.  Perhaps that’s just the way these things work out, much of the time. 
And now for note of caution.  As a data analyst, I am trained to be somewhat leery of studies that are:
·         Post-hoc.  That just means “after the fact”.  It’s easy to see patterns that explain something that has already happened.  It’s better if you form hypothesis before the experiment or observational study, then test them to see how well they conformed to reality.
·         Are not quantitative.  It is difficult to measure  things like artistic style or emotional tone with numbers, so these results are a bit vague and speculative (qualitative data is another term used for this). 
All that being said, life is often messy, imprecise and qualitative (especially in the domains of literature and fiction), so we have to do our best with the data we have.
And here's a link to the book :):

Monday, 8 September 2014

Kati of Terra Book 3 - Print on Demand proof now being reviewed, and a bit of advice.

After a few tries, we finally got the Kati 3 cover to be accepted by Createspace.  It's an interesting to see what a small change can do, and worth keeping in mind for anyone who is working on a print on demand (POD).

Here's a version that was rejected:

Here's a version that was accepted:

It was just a matter of moving the "Dodecahedron Books" text up from near the bottom of the page, to the bottom right hand corner.  CreateSpace is touchy about things being near the edge of the page.  The latter cover is supposed to have a better scanning flow, as well (i.e. from NW to SE, which is the way English speakers read).

There is still some proof-reading of the text to do, before releasing it.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Anatomy of a Successful Amazon Promotion (Part 1)

We had Helena Puumala’s story “The Summer Cottage Mystery - A Children’s Story” on KDP Select’s “free days” promotion over the Labor Day weekend (often spelled Labour Day in Canada J).  In other words, the story was available for free download from Thursday August 27 to Monday Sept 1, 2014.  It turned out to be quite a successful promotion - by Labor Day, it was Number 1 or Number 2 in two categories, on both (the U.S. store) and Amazon.UK (the British Store):

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Detectives

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Animals 
I suspect it was also Number 1 in these categories on the Japanese store (of English-language books, that is), though I can’t read Japanese characters, so I can’t be certain.  I think it probably did ok on the Canadian site as well, though I didn’t actually check.

How many copies did we move?  Well, suffice to say that these are fairly niche categories, so a number in the several hundred range will do the trick.  Most of those were free downloads, though a small percentage were Kindle Unlimited customers, so those should fetch some money.  The rest are, as they say, name exposure and future sales (with a little luck and a lot of continuing hard work).

Hitting number one in a couple of Children’s Books categories is also a pretty good ego boost, and that’s good for the writer’s motivation.  It also constitutes a form of validation or social proof to others, either those that you know personally or to the wider world (via blogs like this for example J).  For those of us that aren’t traditionally published, or aren’t traditional publishers, that can be useful.  So, it is probably a good idea to keep a screenshot or two of your number one ranking.

We are hoping this may also pay off in a month or two, when we release another children’s book, this one a fantasy, complete with wonderful, whimsical drawings (Nathan’s Adventures in the Other-Other Land, also by Helena Puumala, with art work by Jordan Lange).

As a data analyst (day job), I can’t pass up the opportunity to slice and dice the data and throw in a few graphs.  Others may find this helpful in interpreting their own experiences, past, present or future.  I suspect the day-to-day sales patterns and country-by-country patterns are probably fairly universal.  So, below I will look at some of the results that I found most interesting.

Please note: in this blog I may use the terms sales, downloads or sales/downloads interchangeably.  I expect the general tendencies across time and geography will apply regardless of whether these are free promotion or paid sales.

Overall Sales Pattern
The chart shows a number of interesting things.  Here’s how to read it:

·         The horizontal axis shows the Day of the Sale, going forward in time from left to right.

·         The vertical Axis shows the Percentage of Total Sales on that day and from each country.

·         The coloured regions show the sales for each country, all stacked on each other.  Later on we will look at each country separately, since it isn’t always easy to see detailed in trends in this sort of stacked area graph.

One of the main overall points, is that the sales didn’t rise steadily each day.  In fact, Day 2 was slightly under Day 1.  Day 3 marginally beat out Day 1, and sales really started to take off on Day 4 (almost double Day 1) then zoomed on Day 5, to be nearly five times the first day’s sales.  Since Amazon limits us to five free days every 90, we couldn’t take it any further out, to see how long the trend could go on.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

The other main point that is obvious from the graph is the dominance of the U.S. market.  On Day 5, when sales really took off, U.S. sales accounted for about 70% of that day’s sales.  On Days 2 to 4, U.S. sales accounted for 45% to 62% of sales.  Day 1 actually had the highest proportion of U.S. sales, though at over 90%.

I can see a few conclusions coming from these results:

·         You won’t necessarily see a nice linear trend in sales/downloads.  Things can stay stable for a few days, then take off.  It looks as if the momentum builds on itself - at some point nothing succeeds like success (this seems to apply even in a small niche in the long tail).  By the way, in network theory, this is known as Preferential Attachment Theory.

·         This probably represents the phenomenon known as Social Proof - a higher ranking implies higher sales/downloads, which is often interpreted as a sign of quality because “people must know something”.  As we all know, that’s not necessarily so (though in this case it is, naturally J).

·         It’s not easy to hit really big numbers without the help of the U.S. market.  It is still the big English speaking book market. 

·         That being said, the smaller markets can foreshadow progress in the bigger markets.   The British and Japanese markets especially seemed to take off before the U.S. market.

·         Even markets from outside the English speaking world can surprise you.  We have always had pretty decent results from the U.K. and Canada, but the Japanese results were a pleasant surprise.  Naturally, one can’t know the reasons for this success, but a few speculations come to mind - mostly to do with "Hello Kitty" and the Japanese fondness for cats in general.

Specific Country Sales/Downloads Patterns
The graph below shows the progress of the promotion on a day by day basis in different Amazon stores around the world.  The graph data has been transformed so that the first day with sales is equal to 100, and each following day is scaled to that first day.  So, if Day 5 is 450 (as it is for the U.K.), then that means that there were 4.5 times as books sold/downloaded on Day 5 in that country as there was on Day 1.  This is just a way of normalizing the data to see the trends for each data on the same graph, without the U.S. trends swamping out the others, due to its preponderant size.

From this graph, it is clear that the story’s popularity actually began first in the U.K..  Japan was not far behind.  The U.S. only held its own through the first four days, then took off on Day 5.  The same is true for Canada.   The OTH category is a miscellaneous one, combining Germany, Spain and Brazil.  That line just bumps along, indicating that most of the non-English market’s responses were rather small, in terms of this book.

It is interesting to speculate about this pattern.  Did the U.K. sales rise influence the Japan rise the next day?  Then did they both influence U.S. and Canadian sales a couple days later?  Is there cross-talk between the Amazon stores, so that what happens in one can influence what happens in the others?  Or was there some word of mouth in non-Amazon channels.  Or perhaps it just shows that the story caught on independently in these markets.  Taking a bit more of an “edge science” approach, maybe it an expression of that curious thing we call the collective unconscious.

I suppose the main take-away point from this, is that if you see a nice response in one country, it could presage similar responses in other countries.  That can even be true if one of the markets seems like a minor market – e.g. a non-English speaking market like Japan.

Next blog, I will look at some of the factors that might have caused the positive reception for the books, especially those that are widely thought to be influential:

·         Cover.

·         Blurb.

·         Categorization.

·         Keywords.

Here are a few references for some of the subjects touched upon in the blog.