Alex P. Berg is a fantasy and mystery author, scientist, and heavy metal aficionado. He bends materials to his will by day and harnesses the power of words at night. He is an avid reader, tireless writer, and heavy sleeper. He is the sole owner and operator of https://www.alexpberg.com, and he feels odd writing about himself in the third person.
As should be evident from my site overhaul, I have a new book out entitled The Tau Ceti Transmutation. It’s a science fiction/mystery hybrid that pays homage to some of the pulp novels of decades past, and it’s chock full of witty humor, zany situations, and thick mystery. If it sounds like your cup of tea, check it out at the vendor sites below. Thanks!
Roughly a year ago I attended a conference called Superstars Writing Seminars, or Superstars for short. It’s a writing conference focused not on the craft of writing but rather the business of being a successful author, and attending the conference was, quite simply, life-changing for me.
Let me paint a picture of where I was a year ago, in terms of experience, knowledge, and my mental/emotional makeup. In the year prior to attending, I’d realized my love of writing, and I’d written my first novel. Then, like many other people in my shoes, I’d polished up the work, sent it to agents in search of representation, and gotten rejected dozens of times. And I’d become depressed and unsure about my path forward.
Thankfully, I had my lovely wife to gently encourage me (via a swift kick in the rear) to keep trying—assuming that writing was something I was serious about. Well, it was, and a conference seemed like a good way to kick-start my, at the time, non-existent career. As luck would have it, I found Superstars, and only a few weeks before the conference was scheduled to be held.
Now, I won’t go into the specifics of what topics were discussed—everything from contracts to self-publishing to marketing to sales numbers and trends, and every tidbit I learned was helpful. But there were two things I took away from the conference that were far more useful than any specific piece of advice I learned.
The first was seeing how hard the most successful authors worked. As someone who had approached writing (to that point) as a hobby, it was eye-opening to see how much time and effort the successful writers poured into their craft, and by craft I don’t just mean learning and practicing their writing, but also marketing, networking, working on budgets and sales and financials, blogging, web design, cover design, editing, etc, etc, etc. Not surprisingly, those authors who were successful approached their endeavors as a business, and like any other business person, they worked hard to be successful.
The other major takeaway I gained from the conference was a renewed passion about writing—in part due to specific motivational speeches (*cough* James Owen *cough), but also because the presenters and attendees were all so passionate about their writing that it was hard not to be infected by the feeling. Not that I really needed to be infected—I was already passionate about my writing. But seeing others doing the same thing I was working toward, and seeing their success while also learning how to do better myself—that was inspiring. And I came away from the conference with that knowledge that I could—not would, but could—succeed as a writer. And despite the idea of gatekeepers in writing, whether they were agents or editors or others, the biggest hurdle to my own success came from within.
So after the conference, I worked hard. I applied myself. I learned as much as I could, and I cut things out of my life that wouldn’t help me become a better writer and a more successful one.
I read blogs on business and writing daily. I updated my website with new bells and whistles. I boosted my social media reach over twofold, and more importantly, I made connections with other writers and with editors and cover artists. I read—a lot, in lots of genres, stuff outside my traditional preference.
And I wrote, as much as I could. I penned three novels, and self-published them when they were ready to see the light of day (well, not the last one yet—but it should be out very soon).
And sales? I tried not to worry about that part too much. That part was largely out of my control. All I could do was work as hard as possible and put out the best product I could. I figured if I did that, success would at some point follow. And you know what? In many ways, success is already here, as evidenced by some of my recentblog posts. My books are doing great. They’re flying off the digital shelves. Readers love them. And I love writing them.
So for those of you who are going to be joining me next week at Superstars, brace yourselves. You’ll have a flood of information coming at you. All of it will be useful. Absorb as much of it as you can. But also keep in mind—success will only be able to come from within you.
Chances are, it’s already there. You just need to free it.
A couple months ago I wrote a One Month Published Author Introspective post, where I tried to share some of the insights I’d gathered in the brief month during which my first two self-published books had been available for purchase. I think it was a useful exercise, both for me and for others, so here I am with the three month update. I might also do the same thing at six months and a year, depending if I have worthwhile information to share. In the first installment, I used an unorthodox approach, describing things I was excited and disappointed about. Here, I’ll take a more traditional approach and discuss things I’ve learned along the way.
1) It can be done.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably an author, maybe an indie-published one, or you aspire to be, and you’re thinking, is self-publishing worth it? Can you really find success that way? Can you make it in the current environment?
Yes. You can.
I wondered the same thing when I started. I mean, there’s over 3.2 million books for sale in the Amazon Kindle store. How is someone going to find yours, and why would they buy it? But you’re not just selling a book. You’re selling your book, and your book is unique, isn’t it?
Take Red Hot Steele. It’s not just a book. It’s a mystery—a fantasy mystery, in an urban environment. That’s different. But there’s more. It’s not a typical urban fantasy, rather a mystery set in an urban setting with fantasy elements, if that makes sense. And it’s filled to the gills with humor. And elements of noir. And even some sexual tension. Now we’re talking. It’s not a book. It’s my book. And if it’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, you won’t find it anywhere else.
Why does that matter? Because most people who are searching to buy a piece of fiction are looking for an experience, and if you can offer them an experience they can’t get anywhere else, they’ll come back to you for more. And they’ll tell others about you, too.
I think word of mouth, to a large degree, has helped me achieve success so early on. And I’m not going to lie—it’s come very quickly. In the two weeks of October that my books were available, I sold 60 copies, which I didn’t think was particularly good, but other people might see it differently. Then my books sold quite a bit better in November. And they sold much, much better in December. And they’re doing even better so far in January. If things keep going the way they have been, I’ll make a living wage from my writing this year, maybe a really good living wage. But, I don’t want to count my eggs before they’ve hatched, which brings me to my next point…
2) Visibility is key.
There’s a lot of reasons I think my books have done well, first and foremost being that they’re really well written—by which I mean, in this case, funny, interesting, and exciting, right off the bat. Great characters, great plot. I also have a fantastic cover that makes people want to click on it when they see it, and I wrote, in my humble opinion, a really engaging sales blurb that makes people want to see what the fuss is about.
But I can’t stress enough the importance of visibility to readers in my success, and here I mean placement on Amazon lists. I put Red Hot Steele, and later Cold Hard Steele, on a fairly small Amazon list—Psychic Mysteries. That let Red Hot Steele get visibility right away, first on the Psychic Mysteries Hot New Releases list, and later at the tail end of the main list itself. People saw Red Hot Steele and started to buy, and bit by bit, it rose up the list, until, sure enough, it got to the number one spot. And the number one spot of an Amazon list, any list, no matter how small, means good sales. Really good. Honestly, anywhere in the top three means really good sales.
I realized this, and so I rejiggered my book’s categories so that it would show up on two lists—Psychic Mysteries and Psychic Suspense—and sales rose even further.
I’ll say it again: visibility is key. If you can, place your book in an Amazon list where it will get some.
Of course, the fact is, if you don’t have a great book with an awesome cover and an enticing blurb, your book won’t sell well enough to get visibility. So doing all that is a given. But on the bright side? If you do all that well, and your book sales slowly improve, it’s really hard to lose visibility. Amazon’s algorithms have a long tail, meaning they take into account past sales to a fairly large degree. If your book sales grow organically, you’ll be hard to displace by someone else who, say, has a 99¢ book promo and sells a tons of copies over a few days.
3) Don’t Sweat the 30 Day Sales Cliff
I mentioned this is my one month post, the idea that sales drop off a cliff after thirty days. I suppose it must be true for some authors otherwise the myth wouldn’t exist, but the only reason I can think of must be that for these folks, their only real visibility on Amazon comes from the Hot New Releases list, which lasts for thirty days. But if your only visibility comes from those lists, chances are you’re probably not selling particularly well anyway.
Once more, with feeling: visibility is key. Find a category, somewhere, where you’ll get some—just be sure that category really is a fit for your book, otherwise readers will be upset with you.
4) It’s True What They say About Book Two
There’s an adage that nothing sells book one like book two, and even with a book like Red Hot Steele that had quite a bit of success early on, this has been absolutely true. It took Red Hot Steele two months to reach the #1 spot on its first Amazon list. It took Cold Hard Steele a week to do the same. They were even both #1 on separate lists at the same time. Still are, in fact. And the release of Cold Hard Steele boosted Red Hot Steele, which had been flagging slightly, higher on the Amazon best-sellers lists than it had ever been.
The fact of the matter is, people love series, but many people aren’t willing to dive in until there are multiple books available. For one thing, you need to convince people that you’re not a one shot wonder—that you really will write a book two and a book three, and that they’ll hold up to the first. And people love to binge read. When was the last time you read a great book one and immediately bought the rest of that series?
So don’t worry if your book doesn’t take off right away. It might be frustrating, but there’s time. Each book you release will help the profile of the ones before it, which brings me to my last point.
5) The Launch Doesn’t Matter
It may be hard to convince yourself of this point if you release a book into the wild and it bombs, but it’s true. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you can have a successful launch. You should try and drum up support for your book by any means possible: through social media, by sending an e-mail blast to your mailing list (you have one, right?), and by talking to people in person (a time forgotten art, I know).
But even if you don’t sell any books right away, remind yourself: it doesn’t matter. In this day and age, with e-books and print on demand, your book is eternal. There is no such thing as a new book—just a book that a reader hasn’t read yet. You have all the time in the world. So sit back, relax, work on your craft, write another book, one that’s better than your last, and hope that somewhere along the line, people start buying your stuff.
Well, that’s all I’ve got. Hope it was of use to you. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to start up a conversation in the comments.
In case you hadn’t guessed based on all the changes to the rest of the site, Daggers & Steele two, Cold Hard Steele, is now available for purchase. Featuring frost mages, enchanted weaponry, a jaded mystery writer, and more, it’s a rollicking, snark-filled ride from the first jab all the way to the big reveal. Check out the bottom of the post for purchase links to the various vendors. Thanks everyone for your support! Hope you enjoy the newest book.
So Daggers & Steele 1, Red Hot Steele, continues to do great (more on that in an upcoming Three Month Author Introspective post). Success of course comes from sales, and with those sales, I’ve gotten a number of reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. (Thanks for those, by the way!) I’ve even gotten some fan correspondence through Facebook and Twitter, which is awesome! Keep it coming, friends!
Of course, I’m also seeing that there are a few recurring questions regarding the world-building elements for Daggers & Steele. I’m not sure how many of my fans read my blog, but I figured I’d try to answer the three questions I’m seeing the most of.
1) So, um…what’s up with the world?
I’m seeing this a lot. Some fans are confused about whether Daggers & Steele takes place in a 1940’s-ish noir setting or a traditional medieval one. I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I picture New Welwic, the city in which the stories take place, to be the equivalent of an early to mid 1800’s New York, but that’s not a perfect comparison.
The world of Daggers & Steele is just at the cusp of the industrial revolution. There’s water power, and as I mention in Red Hot Steele, coal has recently been discovered, but the implications of being able to burn coal for energy haven’t been discovered yet. Things like steam power and electricity are just being discovered and haven’t been implemented yet (although you’ll see some of these new discoveries appear in book three of the series, so keep your eyes peeled).
Because of the presence of magic, some scientific and technological fields are less advanced than they were in our society at similar periods in history. Physics and chemistry aren’t quite as advanced as they were in our world in the mid 1800’s, but other things, like medicine, perhaps are a little more advanced. And some technologies haven’t been invented at all, which brings me to the next question…
2) Why aren’t there any guns in the world?
Honestly? Because I liked the idea of a world without them. That’s the honest truth. Yes, I know guns were invented in our world long before the mid 1800’s, which is my self-imposed historical analog. But this is a made up fantasy world, and I get to make the rules.
Now, I know there’s some technological advancements in the first Daggers & Steele novel, stuff related to gunpowder (no spoilers, here…) that would make you think that guns would have been invented, but as I said, technology has progressed differently in this world than in ours. I mean, honestly, the idea of using a controlled explosion to create a burst of pressure that’s used to propel a missile down a rifled tube at high velocity isn’t exactly trivial, no matter how much we take that for granted nowadays. And finally…
3) Wait…in our world, Technology X existed way before Technology Y, and in your world, Y exists but X doesn’t! Explain that.
I kind of already discussed this above, but yes, there are anachronisms in my work—if you think of it as trying to be historically accurate. But it’s not. I mean, there’s elves and trolls and magic. Daggers & Steele isn’t trying to be perfectly accurate to our world, because it doesn’t take place in our world.
I should note, however, that I’m not the biggest fan of world-building in general. I much prefer character- and plot-driven stories, so that’s what you tend to get with my books. If you find a blatant error related to world-building in any of my books, though, please share it with me over on my contact page. I love to hear from my fans, including when I get things wrong.
Hopefully, the answers I’ve posted here will help solve some of the questions you guys are having about Daggers & Steele. Book two, Cold Hard Steele, will be out very soon, so keep your eyes peeled.