Category Archives: Thoughts on Writing

A Smart Author’s Guide to smartURL

So I recently finished reading Sean Platt’s and Johnny B. Truant’s Write. Publish. Repeat., which is absolutely fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in self-publishing, or publishing of any kind for that matter. It doesn’t present anything earth-shattering that people who’ve been self-publishing for a while won’t already know, but it does summarize the industry exceptionally well, and I culled a number of helpful tidbits from the book’s pages.

One of those tidbits was in regards to back matter (that’s all the non-novel stuff at the end of an e-book, for those of you not in the know). They suggested that instead of listing all your novels at the end of each e-book, you should instead list a link to your novels on your website. That way you wouldn’t have to update each e-book every time you released a new novel. Instead, just update your website, which you probably were already going to do anyway. It’s a rather obvious idea, but one I hadn’t thought of.

Then later in the book, they suggest an even better idea: They suggest structuring your book so that you never have to update the back matter.

Needless to say, I was curious. Updating books is a pain. I’d love to never have to update my books once published. But how could I pull this off? I want to make sure that in my series, each book points to the next in line. How can I do this without having the next book out yet?

Sean and Johnny recommended doing just that. Here’s how. Let’s take my upcoming Daggers & Steele novel, Cold Hard Steele. I’d probably have a prompt like this in my back matter:

Hi. I’m Alex P. Berg, a mystery, fantasy, and science fiction author with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and a taste for heavy metal music. If you enjoyed Cold Hard Steele, make sure you check out the first book in the series, Red Hot Steele (LINK).

That’s not a great prompt because it directs people to my first novel in the series—which, if they’re reading book two, chances are they’ve already read it. It would be much better to direct them to the next book in the series, which hasn’t come out yet, like so:

Hi. I’m Alex P. Berg, a mystery, fantasy, and science fiction author with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and a taste for heavy metal music. If you enjoyed Cold Hard Steele, be sure to check out the sequel, Time to Steele (LINK).

The problem with this method is that if I never want to update the back matter, I need to have that link, and I can’t get the link until I upload the book to Amazon, Apple, etc.

But Sean and Johnny suggested a great idea. Make that link a placeholder link, one that redirects people to a special page on your website that tells people the book isn’t out yet and instead asks them to sign up to your mailing list—which is a great idea! That way, people interested in buying that next book of yours immediately get funneled into the best way to make them aware when the book comes out. Genius!

The only problem is, Sean and Johnny advocate using some specialty software to funnel people around on your website once the book actually is available—because once it’s available for purchase, you want that placeholder link to take people to the purchase page for your novel.

Well, friends, there’s no need for that. You just need smartURL.

smartURL is a URL shortener, but it’s so much more than that. For one thing, it redirects global traffic based on geographic location. So, for example, if I post an Amazon link through smartURL, a person who clicks on that link in the UK will go to the Amazon UK site, and a person who clicks on that same link in Japan will go to the Amazon JP site, and so on. That’s really nice.

But the nicest thing about smartURL is that you can sign into your account and redirect where the shortened link will take you. So, I can make links for my back matter for books I haven’t released yet, links that initially send readers to a prompt to join my mailing list, and then, once my new books are finally released, I can change where the shortened URL sends people to rout clicks to the actual purchase page for my new book.

Pretty fantastic, huh? If you’re an indie author, using smartURL allows you to never update books that have already been released (unless you want to change the actual meat of your back matter). Overall, I think this could be a huge time saver, and I’m happy to implement this system before I have huge piles of books to update.

Red Hot Steele Hits #1

I joked about it a few days ago, but I didn’t think it would happen. Not this fast. But it did.

Red Hot Steele hit #1 on Amazon’s Psychic Mysteries list.

I'm #1! I'm #1! The day this was posted anyway.
I’m #1! I’m #1! The day this was posted anyway.

This is exciting on so many levels, but I find it really amazing that the book is doing so well given that I’ve done zero publicity and marketing for it. Seriously. None. I told my friends on Facebook and Twitter about it, posted about it here on my blog, and told my real life, flesh-and-blood friends and family about it, and that’s it. No promotional sales on Bookbub, ENT, or the like. No ads on sites. No blog tours. No local or national media exposure (though that would be great—call me journalists!). Red Hot Steele has thrived off organic growth and landed at the top spot in one of its two main categories in less than two months.

Now, I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of sales numbers or strategies—I’m saving those for my three month published author introspective in January—but I can offer a little insight into why I think Red Hot Steele has done so well.

1) I wrote a great book, one that’s exciting and funny and engrossing right off the bat. No modesty here. I did. And as much as people want to overlook this part of being a bestselling author, it’s the most important and the hardest part.

2) I got a great, and I mean fantastic, piece of cover art. It’s unique and eye catching, but it still fits the genre and theme of the book. Thanks Damon Za!

3) I wrote a really snazzy blurb. It makes you want to read the book—like, right now. This makes a difference. If your blurb is boring, chances are the book is boring, too.

And that’s it. Seriously. I didn’t necessarily believe it before I started, but if you write a great book with a great cover and a great blurb, people will find it and buy it. It might take a few days or a few years, but it will happen.

I can also offer another piece of advice to keep the party going. Write a great sequel—which I did. Cold Hard Steele will be available in January. Stay tuned.

The One Month Published Author Introspective

Today officially marks one month since my books appeared for purchase in the Amazon store (just under for some of the other, slower vendors). One month! That’s both exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking, because it seems like I haven’t made nearly enough progress on my next project in that time, but I digress.

Given that I often hear about the thirty-day cliff (the point after release at which sales tend to drop precipitously for indie authors), I wanted to record both for myself and for other indie authors my journey in my first month of sales and then compare at the three month mark to see how things are going (which should line up almost perfectly with the release of book two in my Daggers & Steele series, Cold Hard Steele). I wanted to do a little bit of a pro and con style analysis, but that terminology doesn’t totally fit with the information I wanted to present.

So, without further ado, here are the indie publishing experiences that have excited me during my first month as a published author (pros) and those experiences that have been disappointing (cons).

Disappointment: The Launch

While my books went live on the various vendors anywhere from Thursday, Oct. 16th to Sunday Oct. 19th, I waited until Monday Oct. 20th to announce my books to the world on social media. Given the number of people who’d been supporting me on my journey, I’d expected to make a big splash and rocket up the new release charts, at least for a day. So imagine my dismay when I sold a grand total of three books on Oct. 20. Yeah… That wasn’t a fun day. However…

Excitement: Consistent Sales

My (somewhat) surprise hit, Red Hot Steele.
My (somewhat) surprise hit, Red Hot Steele.

One of the reasons I was upset was because I’d envisioned I’d sell some books to friends and family and then maybe some sales would trickle in here and there in perpetuity. I didn’t expect to see steady sales on my first two books, by me, a total unknown commodity. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happened. I’ve sold at least one copy of Red Hot Steele on Amazon Kindle every single day since release (which doesn’t account for paperbacks or other sales channels). So that’s nice. But even nicer has been…

Excitement: Growing Sales

Red Hot Steele has been picking up steam and doing better over time. In my first week, even with my launch and me promoting my books to everyone I know, I sold an average of 3.3 books per day on Kindle. In the past week, I’ve averaged 6.1 sales per day. That’s pretty dang cool. As much as I hoped my books would gain momentum over time, I didn’t expect it to start happening so soon, and I didn’t think it would happen until I had more novels for sale (at least 5 or so). I also didn’t expect…

Excitement: International Sales

I’ve sold books internationally, in the UK, Canada, and Europe. Not a ton, mind you, but some. And I know for a fact that all of those (with one possible exception), came from people I’ve never met and who had previously never heard of me. Of course, almost all the sales have been for Red Hot Steele, which leads me to…

Excitement/Disappointment: One-sided Sales

While Red Hot Steele has done great, The Genesis Allegory has languished. I’m not sure if I should be excited or disappointed by that, actually. On one side, it’s always disappointing to see that a book has only sold a few copies, but on the other side, it’s more or less what I expected. The Genesis Allegory doesn’t have the same mass market appeal that Red Hot Steele does. And the exciting thing, I guess, is that I really thought Red Hot Steele would appeal to a wide audience, and now that I see it’s selling well, it gives me confidence that I do have realistic expectations about my own work (ie. I’m not delusional about the quality of my own writing). This has been confirmed to me by…

Excitement: Positive Reviews

I’ve yet to receive a negative review for either book, but the response to Red Hot Steele in particular has been great. Nothing but five star reviews online and everyone who’s talked to me in person has told me they loved it. But…

Disappointment: Limited Reviews

All the reviews I’ve gotten online so far have been from people I know, despite my appeals in my book end matter for reviews. I’d hoped for some random ones by now. I also had hoped for more friends and family to leave me kind reviews after appealing to them on Facebook, etc., but I’m still holding out hope that many haven’t read the books yet and not that they’re too lazy to write me a few sentences. And finally, one last random point…

Excitement: Amazon Lists

Maybe one of the best reasons Red Hot Steele has done so well is that it’s managed to place on two key Amazon lists, Mystery>Supernatural>Witches & Wizards and Mystery>Supernatural>Psychics, for almost the entire time it’s been out. It hasn’t cracked the top twenty (to my knowledge), but it’s gotten oh so close a couple times (it’s #22 on the Witches & Wizards list as I speak). Seeing my novel up there, rubbing shoulders with some of the other heavy hitters in the field is uber, DOOPER exciting.

Why, yes, that is my book, Red Hot Steele, right next to Janet Evanovich’s Wicked Appetite.

So, I guess that’s about it. I don’t know if that’s helpful to anyone else or not, or if it really just turned into a long-winded pat on the back for myself, but I think it’ll be a helpful reminder to myself that success is possible. Maybe it’ll be a reminder for all of you aspiring authors out there, as well, and an impetus for you to keep writing.

One Horn to Rule them All

Those of you who know me and have talked to me about writing have probably heard me talk about the Superstars Writing conference before. It’s a business oriented writing conference spearheaded by best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Kevin J. Anderson, and it’s featured numerous recurring guests including Dave Farland, Brandon Sanderson, James A. Owen, Eric Flint, and this coming year, mega best-selling indie author Hugh Howey.

It’s a fantastic conference, one that changed my focus and outlook on writing entirely, and one that motivated me to do far more than I would have ever thought possible. I plan on attending for years to come, and at the one year anniversary of my attendance of the conference this year, I’ll be posting some statistics and numbers showing just how much the conference helped me accomplish.

You might be thinking that a business conference isn’t much fun, but quite the contrary – it’s a blast. The people are fabulous, friendly, and inclusive, and once you join, you’re permanently part of ‘the Tribe.’

Let me tell you a story about the conference to elaborate. In one of Kevin’s seminars on professionalism, he likes to stress the point that if you commit to a project, you’d better produce, no matter how dumb you might think the project is. He always uses the same example: if you agree to write a short story for a purple unicorn anthology, then by golly, you’d better write the best dang piece of purple unicorn short fiction that you can. Your readers deserve it.

The idea, of course, is that an anthology on purple unicorns is about the dumbest thing you can imagine. So this became a running joke. Until this year that is, when after being egged on by numerous attendees, Kevin decided that we’d turn this particular fantasy into reality.

And thus, One Horn to Rule them All was born.

One Horn to Rule them All

This is a true labor of love for everyone involved with the conference. Attendees submitted stories for it, panelists donated their time and efforts to edit and produce cover art for it, and Kevin ponied up the cash to fund it, all without compensation in the name of charity. Charity, you say? Yes, that’s right. All the proceeds from sales of the anthology go toward providing scholarships to the Superstars conference so that cash strapped authors who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend get a chance to join us at the next meeting.

And in case you think I’m just promoting this because I’m in it, well guess again. My story wasn’t even good enough to get included! So there! (Maybe I’ll post it here someday – no guarantees though.) And this anthology doesn’t just feature up and coming authors from the conference. It also features some big names like Todd McCaffrey, Jody Lynn Nye, and Peter S. Beagle. Yes, the Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn.

So if you have any interest at all in purple unicorns, consider buying it. It’s available in both e-book and trade paperback format through Amazon and Createspace, and it’s for a good cause. Who knows – if it does well enough, maybe there’ll be another volume next year.

The Art of Theft

I’m a thief. I admit it. But to be fair, most writers are.

You see every story starts out as an idea. An idea is the barest, most fundamental element of a story. And there really aren’t that many of them. Over the course of human history, pretty much every original idea for a story, when broken down to its most basic structure, has already been used.

That might seem like a bad thing, but luckily for us, copyright law doesn’t protect ideas. It only protects expression of ideas – big difference.

So let’s say I write a story about a detective. Well, clearly, there have been thousands, probably tens of thousands, of those written. What about a wisecracking homicide detective with a sexy partner? Been done too. What about that same tandem in a fantasy world with an element of noir and a heavy dose of the chuckles? Well, that might have been done too (I’m not sure), but we’re finally starting to approach the realm where an idea is growing into something more – the expression of an idea.

At this point you may be wondering to yourself, so how exactly are you a thief? Writers always use other stories as inspiration for their own. You can’t steal ideas. Well, unfortunately, there’s something I forgot to mention.

I like to write comedy.

If you think of writers as borrowing liberally from their peers, think of comedians as brutally efficient safe crackers who are actively robbing you blind.

For those of you not familiar with the subject, there are a couple things you need to know about comedy. The first is that different people find different things funny. The exact same joke, to four different people, might seem funny, tired, confusing, or offensive. The second thing to know is that there’s no way to predict how a joke might affect an audience without trying it.

If you’re a stand-up comedian, you can test a joke out by telling it to a crowd. If it falls flat on its face, you never tell it again. But what about someone who aspires to write funny scenes? You’ve really only got one shot. Once you publish a piece, the jokes and skits you write are out there forever.

So what’s a writer of comedic stuff to do? Simple. Steal. From anyone and everyone. Not blatantly of course – that would be rude. But you do it constantly. If I read something in a novel that makes me chuckle, I make a mental note of it. Every time I snigger at something in a TV show, have a laugh with my buddies, or smile in response to a Facebook post, I try to archive that moment for later use. (It helps to have a good memory in this game.) Every time I encounter something that strikes me as funny, I try to store it for later, so I can whip it out in a story when the moment is right. I might modify it a bit from its original form, whether intentionally or unintentionally – really my memory’s not that good – but it’s pretty much the same bit that made people laugh the first time I encountered it.

So I really am a thief, or at the very least a surreptitious archivist and distributor of humor. I just hope to be sneaky enough about it that nobody will ever notice.

So with that said, please forget everything I just wrote. Thanks.

Image credit: Featured image by Tiago Daniel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr.