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Shirley Link & The Black Cat: A growing up story

Shirley Link & The Black Cat: A growing up story

(4) Shirley Link The Black CatOur hometowns leave an impression. They help us define ourselves, for good or ill. My hometown of Santa Fe, NM was like a faceless fifth member of the family. I alternated between hating it and loving it, like a sibling who read my diary and then gave me a thoughtful birthday present. Its alternate routes, and hidden alleys and beautiful views and eccentric homeless citizens made for an adventurous childhood.

It was a good place to grow up and a horrible place to grow up. It had awful schools, which I miraculously avoided one way or another, and an intense friction between the Latino, White and Native American populations. It also had the richest cultural life in America, with a fascinating history and artists in every other house. Its winters were cold and snowy. Its summers were hot and dry. Its springs were rainy, the air filled with the smell of oncoming storms. There was a silence that spoke to you. There was poverty that could take your breath away.

It’s incredible that we all see these elements in our hometown. Maybe you grew up somewhere that was the exact opposite from where I did. A rural town maybe. Or a big city. But I bet you had the same extremes, and I bet they helped define you and how you see the world around you.

I was lucky. I ended up loving my hometown. I still yearn for it and all it promises. I see where it falls short, and I still love it. But so many people I know can’t stand where they came from. They’re out and they’re never going back. I wanted to explore that dynamic in a Shirley Link book to better understand it. I also wanted to tell a story, a hopeful one, to kids who are struggling with where they are.

In Shirley Link & The Black Cat, a young man, 17, and his girlfriend, also 17, are the prime suspects in a string of robberies. There’s very little evidence, if any, that they did anything wrong. But that doesn’t stop everyone, even Shirley for awhile, from jumping to conclusions. I tapped into a deep sadness as I wrote about them. They were flawed — mean, odd, petty. But they were that way for a reason. They’d constructed incredibly complex and effective weapons against their community, which, for whatever reason, decided they were outcasts. And they found each other so they could have something in their lives that wasn’t mean, odd or petty.

As I wrote this growing up story I rooted like hell for them. I didn’t know what would happen. It wasn’t mapped out. In the end, I depended less on my need for a happy ending than I did on my ever-developing sense of what we need from our youth. We need support and understanding. We need company. We need community. Either our family, school and hometown provides these things or they don’t. And if they don’t? My conclusion is that we still gravitate toward what will make us feel kind, loved and understood.

It made for the most realistic adventure in my middle school reader series. There are no pirates, or magic safes, or valuable comic books. Just two teens caught in a mess. And a fourteen year old amateur sleuth who wants to help, and who grows up a little bit in front of our eyes.

by Ben Zackheim

Shirley Link & The Safe Case has won the Book of the Day award!

Shirley Link & The Safe Case has won the Book of the Day award!

Shirley Link & The Safe Case by Ben Zackheim Award


I was delighted to wake up and see that Shirley Link & The Safe Case had won the Book of the Day award over at Indie Book of the Day!

Writing is a tough business, so anytime my peers take notice, I’m delighted. I’ve been a fan of the site for awhile. Score!

I join other great books of the day like Rex Rising and Learn Me Good

Now back to work! More awards to win! ;-)




Does advertising on Goodreads work? (Part 1)

Does advertising on Goodreads work? (Part 1)

Does advertising on Goodreads work? My first step into their self-serve ad system shows promise. I know there’s interest in the writing community about advertising on Goodreads, so I thought I’d share the results of my first (ten bucks!) campaign.

I advertised two middle grade books in my Shirley Link series. The campaign started 12-6-2012.

While I’m somewhat pleased with the overall views, I can’t measure the actual sales since Amazon and are black boxes. I plan on making my own landing page for sales so I can measure conversion next time! Sigh. I knew that, but I didn’t account for it. No soup for me!

I targeted one ad using genres and authors as filters. I used no targeting for the other ad. The ctr was higher for the targeted ad (.01 vs. .02).

daily cap $2.00
total credit purchased $10.00 transactions
total views 116,129
total clicks 20
ctr for all time 0.02%
cpc for all time $0.50

The ten bucks started to go quickly, but after a couple of days it dropped to a trickle. I probably wouldn’t have spent the whole ten bucks if I hadn’t redone the creative on one book, including copy. I also adjusted the link for the ad and made it point to my Goodreads page, and not to my books’ Amazon pages. That simple move seems to have pushed it over the top and my ten bucks quickly got spent. Another benefit of linking to Goodreads page is that I saw a spike in my books being added to Goodreads shelves. It implies that the Goodreads community likes to stay on the site. It also implies (though I have no proof) that Goodreads gives preferential treatment to ads that link to their book pages, and not someone else’s.

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[blockquote author_name=”” width=”50%” float=”left”]My goals for next campaign:

Get a full half percent ctr (you read that right! .5, not .05!)

Track my custom sales page![/blockquote]

[blockquote author_name=”” width=”50%” float=”left”]Lessons learned:

Make a product/landing page that you can track!

Target the ad, but not too strictly. Limiting it to a few genres and several authors is a good place to start.

Adjust the ad when the views drop. Change the copy and graphic, if possible.

For first-timers/dabblers advertising on Goodreads: If you don’t have a landing page of your own where you can sell the book directly, then point the ad to your Goodreads page, NOT an online retailer. Since it’s probably really attractive to link to the online retailers (just to see what happens) I’d wait to do it on your second campaign. That way you can spot your own ad’s performance and adjust around the most important part…the conversion![/blockquote]

Read Part 2 of this series

Contest for kids! Win the entire Shirley Link book series.

Contest for kids! Win the entire Shirley Link book series.

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Welcome to a New Year, my friends! This will be a good one with a number of Shirley Link books slated for release, including the next edition in the series, Shirley Link & The Treasure Chest! I can’t wait until you and your kids read this one. I’m really proud of it!

What better way to start the year than with a contest for kids? The holiday is over. The plastic stuff has been cast aside. What better way to refuel the soul, than with a book? By entering, you’ll be eligible to win both books in the Shirley Link series, in softcover. That’s right. Real paper and ink! I spent so much time on the print edition that my family probably wished I’d stuck with ebooks only! I’m glad I took the time, though. Seeing Robin’s art on the shiny cover for the first time was a moment I’ll always remember.

Shirley Link is a kids book series from the heart. I love writing about her. Thanks so much for supporting the books and spreading the word! Keep an eye open for an announcement about book #3 soon…