Experiments with Advertising

Most writers want to have their work read. After all, that’s why we write, no? Ok, some folks write purely for their own catharsis and don’t care if another soul ever sees it, or perhaps don’t even want anyone else to read it, and some write with the (elusive and probably misguided) goal of making money, but most of us write simply because we enjoy seeing others enjoy our work.

And for that to happen, we have to be noticed. People have to be aware that the work exists and know how to find it, or it won’t matter how amazing the writing is, how engaging the story. It will languish in the darkness of obscurity.

There are many ways to be noticed, some more effective than others. We’re all trying to find those magic keywords that will maximize our search engine optimization, or SEO, and somehow draw readers in out of the ether, and yes, we find some readers that way. We promote our work on social media, engage with others in hopes they’ll engage with us, and yes, we find a few more that way.

But unless we’re already famous, that rarely turns into more than a trickle of readers. In fact, being too aggressive with self-promotion on social media is likely to have a negative effect, turning off potential readers who just want to engage in friendly chat and not see what amounts to endless advertising all day.

So it may seem almost counter-intuitive, at first glance, that advertising may be a way to get over the hurdle of not overly aggressively bombarding our friends and followers with, well, advertising.

What do I mean by that? Well, at the time I write this, I have just barely over a thousand followers on Twitter, and just barely under a hundred on Facebook. It took me four years to get to that point, though some people seem to manage it overnight, but I refused to play the various “follow-for-follow” games, mainly because they turned me off when I saw them, so I presumed they would turn off other “real” engagements as well. If all I do on Twitter is constantly push my writing to my existing followers, I’ll probably start losing more than I gain. And in any case, most of them will never click that link through to my website, even if they like the post in which I share my latest scene.

Still, at first glance Twitter seems to have a ten to one advantage over Facebook in terms of my reach toward potential audiences. That is probably offset, however, by the nature of those who follow an independent, unpublished, non-famous author on one platform vs the other. The majority of those who follow me on Twitter are other writers, some published, some not yet, some represented, and others not. They are there for the same reasons I am, yes, to promote their work, but also to engage with likeminded people going through the same struggles they are. In other words… not the general reading audience, but more like a professional association.

Facebook has far fewer people following me, and while many of those are also other writers, there is (I think, it’s hard to be sure) a higher percentage of them who are “ordinary readers” who are interested in science fiction. Still, the organic engagement I get with a tweet vs a Facebook post reflects that ten-to-one split, and so I’ve tended to focus more of my time where the greater number of people reside.

A recent experiment might imply that I’ve been focusing on the wrong platform.

I ran an ad on each of the platforms to see what would happen. No, I don’t have anything to sell yet, so there’s no financial incentive for me in this. It was just to see what kind of engagement I could drive with my story as it develops here on these pages. I ran them separately, with about a week in between. I posted precisely the same link on each (this one, here: The Silence of Ancient Light), using the same language and same tags (#ScienceFiction and #WIP). I targeted the same countries (United States, United Kingdom, and Canada), and targeted audiences interested in Science Fiction and in Reading, but otherwise left the demographics wide open. I gave each an identical budget of $50. The Twitter ad ran for 5 days, and the Facebook one for 7 days (the defaults on each), but the majority of the results from the Facebook ad still happened within those first 5 days, so this was roughly equivalent.

Twitter Advertising

On Twitter, the ad received a total of 3,288 impressions, of which 2,670 were “promoted” and the remainder were “organic” (happened naturally, and would likely have occurred without paying for the ad). An impression is just the ad appeared before someone’s eyes, in their feed, whether or not they interact with it at all. Those impressions resulted in 90 total engagements, of which 83 were promoted and again, the rest were organic. That’s a 3.1% engagement rate, which by all accounts is about as much as you can expect. An engagement is someone taking any action on the ad: 32 people expanded the detail to see the full text, 24 people clicked the like button, 15 people clicked on my profile to learn more about me, and 10 people clicked on the link to follow through to this website. 7 people retweeted the ad, and I gained 2 new followers because of the ad.

Since “link clicks” was the real purpose of the ad, that means 0.4% of people who saw the ad clicked through to the website. Less impressive, perhaps.

Meanwhile, over here on the website, during the time period the ad was running, I saw those 10 views on the page that was the ad’s link, though only 9 of them were registered as being referred from Twitter. Overall, the entire site had 35 views from 18 unique visitors, and I received 1 post like. This implies I had almost as many organic site visits as I did promoted visits, which may partly be explained by me having posted a new scene to the site a few days before the ad began running.

The ad reached 2,670 people, and 0.4% of those clicked through to read the “title” page of the story. A small handful of those 10 people then clicked on to read one or more actual scenes of the story. So, that cost me $10 per reader, and they weren’t very engaged by the story. Perhaps the story is just bad?

Facebook Advertising

A week after the Twitter ad expired, I ran the same ad on Facebook, as I described above. With few exceptions, everything about the ad was identical.

The Facebook ad reached 12,812 people, of whom 12,807 were paid and just 22 organic. Right away, we see that Facebook seemed to have much greater reach, nearly 5 times as much. But what about engagement?

991 people engaged with the ad. I don’t have the split for paid vs organic on this number, but as I have very few followers here, and only a single-digit number who ever seem to engage with my regular posts, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of this number was due to the paid ad. That’s a 7.7% engagement rate! More than double the engagement of the identical Twitter ad. Of those 991, 48 “reacted” (clicked like, mostly, though one hit the laughing out loud button, and I’m not sure what to make of that), 6 shared the post (1 of those was a share of a share, so while not exactly viral, that is how those things get started), 1 commented on the post (and it was a strange comment, so not necessarily a positive), and 934 clicked on it. Of those clicks, 367 were clicks on the link to this website, and 567 were “other” clicks (on my profile, perhaps? it’s not clear).

Back here on the website, I tracked 384 Facebook referrals during the time the ad ran, and 901 views from 333 unique visitors. There were 391 views on the promoted page, and 1 page like.

The ad reached nearly 5 times as many people as the Twitter ad, and 2.9% of them clicked through to look at the website, compared to 0.4% of those who saw the Twitter ad. Instead of $10 per reader, this campaign cost me 15¢ per reader. That’s much more effective!

There’s an even more compelling stat here, however. From the Twitter campaign, only a handful of people read anything other than the initially linked page. From the Facebook campaign, about two dozen people went on to read at least the first few scenes, almost a dozen read quite a bit more than that, at least through the first few chapters, and at least 3 people read the entire story so far published, all the way to the end.

That tells me that it’s not just the advertising, but my writing is engaging at least some people. Not all, perhaps not even a majority of those who look at it, but at least some are finding it worthwhile to spend several hours reading 80,000+ words.

It is curious, however, that no one from the Facebook campaign chose to become a new follower of either my Facebook page nor this website. They read through all the work, which is as yet unfinished, but did not click the link to sign up to be notified when the next scene is available. I’m going to presume they bookmarked the site in their browser and will just periodically check back — maybe? — but perhaps I need to investigate why people are reluctant to hit that “follow” button. I have some thoughts on this, but no real data.

Next Steps

Needless to say, this is encouraging. I’ll continue writing as long as anyone continues reading. For the sake of being thorough, I should also do an identically configured Google AdWords campaign to see how that stacks up. I haven’t yet decided if I’m ready to spend another $50 to find out, but maybe.

Otherwise, is there much point to advertising when I don’t yet have a finished book to sell? Obviously I have no way to turn that investment into any kind of revenue, not yet. However, it never hurts to generate some buzz around the unfinished work, so that people are eager for the final publication. I can’t say if I really achieved that, but I did get my work in front of quite a few more people than I ever had before. And, I have some thoughts about where to focus my investment when I do have a book to sell. Indeed, this experiment turned my expectations upside down, as I had been led to believe that Twitter would be the more effective platform, yet the reverse was true, and by an entire order of magnitude.

Other than more advertising, this experiment has encouraged me to post more often on Facebook and become more engaging there, whereas previously I mostly only posted there when new scenes were available. Twitter had been my “engagement” platform of choice. I will definitely still engage there, but I will broaden my horizon a bit.

What do you think? Did you see the ad? If so, on which platform? Did it cause you to click through, and is that why you’re here now reading this post about how I manipulated you into doing so? How many scenes of the story did you read, and did the story engage you? Will you come back to read more?

Or, if you’re another writer, have you advertised, and if so, what has been your experience?

I look forward to hearing from you.

header image credit: Photo Mix / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

Circuit Breakers (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


After several trips to ferry their meager belongings through the water and up the shaft to the departure chamber, they used the suit helmet lights to illuminate the dark, dank, musty interior, surveying the ancient desks and panels, overgrown with lichens and long-undisturbed dust. How many years had this room lain empty? How many centuries? With a bit of shock, Anna realized this high-tech chamber had probably gone unvisited even longer than the primitive temple they discovered on Ar-Velen. She crouched down to brush the growth from the slanted desk by the elevator cab door that faced back into the room.

“I wish Tak was here. He’d have figured this all out in no time.” She ran her hand over the flat desk surface, then around the sides, looking for any sign of a switch or control.

“We all miss him, Anna.” Laxmi peered intently at the lichen on another desk, then scraped a small sample into a plastic bag, sealed it up, and put it into her pouch.

“You’re still taking samples? After all this time?” Jaci glanced back from his position at the elevator door, where he had been trying to figure out how to open it.

Laxmi shrugged. “The science never stops. Just because we’re separated from our ship is no reason to ignore the reasons we came here. Besides, we haven’t encountered anything like this lichen growth before. This is new to us. I’d like to make sure it isn’t toxic, for one thing.”

“Toxic?” Anna coughed as the cloud of dust and spores she brushed off the side of the desk settled to the floor.


Circuit Breakers

(1,973 words; 7 min 53 sec reading time)


The science never stops! No matter how desperate their straits, Laxmi is always the consummate exobiologist, gleaning as much as she can about this new world they find themselves upon. She remains fascinated with all the life they have found, while Jaci remains fascinated with the alien society they’ve encountered.

Anna just wants to get back to her spaceship and fly it somewhere. Home would be nice, but mostly she just wants to be off the planet’s surface and back in an environment where she feels in control. Events seem to be overtaking them all at breakneck speed, and she just careens from one emergency to the next. Definitely not her happy place.

She is a bit happier, however, as they have discovered an ancient piece of significant technology left over from before the local Dark Ages a millennium ago. The only problem is, the whole site has been powered down for centuries, and much of it remains underwater.

She needs to find a circuit breaker and switch it all on, but that may be easier said than done with alien tech so old it lies under multiple layers of possibly toxic dust and spores.

Click that link above! Go read the scene! You know you want to, and it’s only going to take eight minutes of your time. And drop me a comment, either here or on the scene itself. I want to know what you think.

header image credit: Mikhail Nilov / pexels.com via Pexels License

Chapter 9 and “An Open Door” (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Kepler 62f’s larger moon hung low over the eastern horizon, following the planet’s sun rising high into the turquoise sky. Gentle waves lapped at the sloped stone roof and washed against the stern of the wrecked trimaran, pulled up onto the rooftop out of harm’s way. A pile of meager belongings, retrieved from the boat, sat on the roof: a knapsack of food, a solar charger, a pair of handheld tablets, and the two e-suits, neatly folded with helmets sitting atop them.

Anna sat beside the pile and looked out at the water, at the broken rooftops and spires of the ancient city pushing their way above the waves, structures she had at first thought to be rocks and reefs, worn down by the ages and the frequent storms of this world. How far had the sea level risen here? How deep down were the streets and avenues these people had once walked? She could not tell.

She turned her gaze upward, following the line of the gleaming space elevator cable, reaching far into the heavens until it dwindled out of sight. The sun was near its noon zenith, so even with Kepler 62’s dimmer light she had to shield her eyes against the brightness of its light, and she could not make out the orbital ring at the elevator cable’s other terminus. Would this millennium-old artifact still work? She knew it was doubtful, but she had pinned their hopes on it, and now they were here. Only one way to find out. She turned and dropped her gaze to the building wall behind them, and the elevator’s base just beyond it.


An Open Door

(2,483 words; 9 min 55 sec reading time)


A while back I mentioned something about how the menu structure on the website, breaking the story down into chapters and scenes, was becoming unwieldy, at least for my 13″ laptop screen. Even more so on a mobile device! So, that is now done. Have a look, you’ll see that under Works in Progress / Alpha Reads and then The Silence of Ancient Light, there are now two entries for Part One and Part Two. Part One has the first six chapters, and Part Two has the rest of what I’ve written so far (which is to say, chapters 7 and 8 and the first scene of chapter 9). Now, I should warn you that the divisions of the chapters into parts is somewhat arbitrary, more around neatly organizing the menu onto the web page that organizing the structure of the story. If and when this story makes into a finished novel format, these part divisions are unlikely to remain with it.

So, with that out of the way, welcome to Part Two, and the beginning of Chapter 9!

When last we left our heroes, they had just shipwrecked (again!?) upon the island of Ar-Makati, the forbidden island that is also home to the thousand-plus-year-old disused and possibly ruined space elevator. The space elevator which Anna is holding out as their best hope of getting back into orbit and thus finding a way to return to their starship. Clearly they have some rather large hurdles to overcome to make all this happen, but just as clearly their next order of business is going to be to find a way into the interior of the ancient buildings of this island.

And so that’s what they are now setting out to do. The only problem is, almost everything is underwater. But come on! These people crossed twelve-hundred light-years of interstellar space to get here! A little water is hardly likely to stand in their way, right?

As always, I welcome your feedback, both on the structure of the website as well as the story itself. Tell me what you like! Tell me what you don’t like, too.

header image credit: user:cottonbro / pexels.com via Pexels License

The Drowned City (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


The days and the nights passed, and if it were not for the desperation of their situation, Anna would have found the sailing nearly idyllic. The small trimaran performed brilliantly on the broad reach of their course, the skies remained clear and the tradewind constant. Occasionally a brief squall passed over, enough to keep their water jugs full, but not so much as to cause alarm. They had enough food if they were careful, though it became increasingly bland as they relied upon the salted fish and seaweed that Ca-Seti had thoughtfully left on board, supplemented with their own dwindling supply of prepackaged meal bars.

Ca-Tren continued to ask questions about the stars in the sky, and Anna tried to teach her the basics of astronomy and the structure of the galaxy. Ca-Tren struggled with the human names for the stars and constellations, and Anna wondered if she really grasped the distances involved or was just being agreeable. How does one teach the idea that light has a velocity to someone who has never before had to learn more than how or why their world has seasons? At least Li-Estl taught her students that their planet was a sphere and that it revolved around their sun, so thankfully Anna didn’t have to broach that particular subject, and Ca-Tren had been exposed to the idea that the stars in her sky were other suns, far away. Yet the speed of light remained a difficult concept.

If our boat could fly, could we sail to your world? Ca-Tren asked on one of these nights.


The Drowned City

(2,659 words; 10 min 38 sec reading time)


If someone lights a fire in front of you, you see the fire instantly, right? Even if the fire is a mile away, assuming it’s large enough, your sense is that it takes no time for the light of that fire to reach your eyes. It could be many miles away, at the edge of the horizon, and it will seem this way to you. Of course, you’re an educated person, and you know from school or books you’ve read that the speed of light is not instantaneous, but it is very fast. In fact, it is so fast that to travel from a huge bonfire on the horizon, which for sake of argument we’ll call 20 km away, it takes a mere 67 microseconds to reach you, or 0.000067 seconds.

According to a 2017 MIT study, it takes 13 milliseconds (0.013) for the electrochemical signal to travel from the lens of your eye through your optic nerve and thalamus and finally reach your cerebral cortex, where your brain recognizes it as a visual signal. I’m sure you can do the math from here, but yes, that means that in the time it took for your brain to “see” the light already at your eye, additional photons from that same bonfire have traveled the 20 km to reach you 195 times. In fact, the only reason you see the light of that fire at all is because it continues to shine longer than 13 ms, as otherwise it would be so fast as to be unperceivable by you or I. This is beyond subliminal.

So, a civilization with no experience of anything beyond the surface of their world could be forgiven for not thinking of light as something that has to travel at all, but rather something which simply is.

In this circumstance, how would you begin to explain to someone from that civilization that the stars they see in the sky are not as they are, but as they were hundreds or even thousands of years ago?

This is where Anna begins as she attempts to instruct Ca-Tren in the nature of the galaxy around her.

Of course, such near-philosophical discussions are but a pleasant interlude, as Anna, Ca-Tren, Laxmi, and Jaci are about to arrive at the island housing the ancient base of the space elevator they have been seeing in the sky for months. What will they find upon arrival?

You’ll have to click that link and read on to find out.

As always, drop me a line and let me know what you think of the story so far!

header image credit: Enrique Meseguer / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

So Many Stars, and So Quiet (beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Grey skies gave way to blue, relieving Anna’s anxiety when she could once again sight the thin line of the elevator descending from orbit to the horizon ahead, confirming they remained on track. Navigation by assuming the seas rolled in their direction did not fill her with confidence, and in those hours and days she most keenly felt the lack of the inertial compass, lost to the depths with their makeshift raft weeks earlier. Ca-Tren appeared sure of their direction, but her comments to the Orta notwithstanding, she remained an adolescent, and not in Anna’s mind a proven ocean navigator.

The visual reference of the elevator, however, made all such worries moot. On a clear day it made a better navigation aid than any other tool, as all they need do was point their boat toward it, or slightly upwind of it to account for drift, and sail on.

The clear nights revealed no further lights upon the horizon, no sign of pursuit, giving Anna yet another reason to breathe easier. Far from land, from the lights of any community, and with none aboard their tiny boat, the stars shone brighter than ever, with the ever-present arc of the ring station bisecting the sky. Each passing night brought it that much closer to directly overhead, competing with the arc of the galactic core for brightest object in the sky whenever the moons were below the horizon.


So Many Stars, and So Quiet

(1,149 words; 4 min 35 sec reading time)


Ok, before you read any further here, stop right now, click that link, and read the scene, because I don’t want there to be any spoilers! Then come back here when you’ve done that.

Done? Right, then.

So, some of you may have noticed that, at long last, I am returning to one of the central themes of this story. One might even say it is the central theme, given the title. What is that theme?

Why, the Fermi paradox, of course. I refer to the famous luncheon at which Enrico Fermi exclaimed, somewhat out of the blue, “But where is everybody?” And, of course, everyone else at the table knew precisely what he meant by that.

I won’t go into details here. It’s easy enough to google it, but I do want to discuss Fermi and the Drake equation which sparked his outburst at that luncheon in the first place. However, I think the topic is fully deserving of its own dedicated blog post, so I’ll come to that later, assuming there’s interest.

Hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, so where is everybody?

On another topic, I have a practical question to ask all of you. No doubt you’re aware that I have a menu at the top of this page, and every scene in the story is accessible through this menu. They’re listed in order, grouped by chapter, of which there are currently eight. Most chapters have six scenes in them. But, I have a problem now with this menu structure, and I need your opinion.

When I first start posting scenes, they were not broken out into chapters, but it didn’t take long before the menu became far too long a list to practically navigate on the page. It was cumbersome and awkward. So that was my main motivation in creating chapters, as a way of adding hierarchy levels to the menu so this would be easier.

But now the list of chapters is long enough that, on my laptop with its 13″ screen, when I select Chapter 8, I can’t see all the scenes in the chapter (and so far there are only five) unless I do some awkward scrolling of the menu. It seems to me that this really detracts from the experience. Does it seem that way to you?

Perhaps you don’t even use the menu structure, and you just use the hyperlinks at the end of each scene to find your way to the next. Or perhaps you follow the link from the post in Twitter, FaceBook, or the WordPress Reader, or from the email notification that some of you receive when I make a new blog post. But if you are coming here for the first time, or after an absence, and are looking for the latest scenes, or wherever you last left off, I think that menu is helpful. So I’d really like it to be user-friendly.

So I might need to add another layer to the structure, grouping chapters together into parts, or even acts (though then I might be giving too much away for those familiar with the standard three- or four-act structure, plus that might not lend itself well to solving this particular problem). So, you would click on the title, and then see a sequence of parts, and in each part a number of chapters, and then in each chapter a number of scenes.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea?

header image credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski / pixabay.com via Pixabay License