Everyone is Writing Texting Wrong

Since becoming a bona fide author, I’ve met a lot of other authors. And once you have author friends, you are going to do a lot of beta reading. Since texting and direct messaging in Twitter and Facebook are so much a part of modern life, it’s natural that the characters in these stories are going to do that. And I’ve watched as author after author struggles to convey these conversations. And I’ve noticed a consistent theme to their approaches:

Everyone is doing it wrong.

Everyone except me, of course. Because this is my blog and I get to define reality here. If you’ve read any contemporary fiction, I’m sure you’ve seen the various approaches:

  • Use italics or a weird font
  • Indent funny
  • Identify speakers like it’s a screenplay

It’s all horrible and distracting and unreadable. Let’s take an analogous situation. Suppose you have two deaf characters who are talking in sign language. Would you stop writing words and include a bunch of gestures? No. Of course you wouldn’t. You would use a couple dialog tags to convey it was a signed conversation and then move on, right?

“Hello,” she signed.

He smiled broadly. “How have you been?” he signed back.

“I’ve been well,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”

We establish that they are both signing, and then it’s just regular dialog. We’ll use normal tags like “said” and “replied” and “asked,” and we’ll occasionally throw in a “signed” in there to remind the reader that this is a silent conversation.

So why should texting be any different? Why are you trying to make the prose on the page look like the actual text conversation?

“Hello,” she texted.

He smiled broadly. “How have you been?” he texted back.

“I’ve been well,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”

See how natural that is?

In my first novel, the two main characters almost exclusively text (it’s about a Twitter affair), so I have a lot of experience in this and a lot of reader feedback on whether my approach works. It works. Texting is just dialog. Write it like dialog.

Here’s an example from Entropy (which is a really great book you should buy here).

“Good morning beautiful!” It was the first private message she saw when she went online in the morning. It was from him.

Her heart pounded. Okay, so he thinks I’m beautiful, she thought. Or maybe that’s just what he says to every girl.

She greeted him back, and after a few minutes they were chatting again. It was the same as last night. He still seemed uninterested in her as a woman, but engaged with her as a person. It was strange and new. They talked about a lot of things. They shared pictures of their families, and talked about their marriages. Lisa told him about Roger.

Lisa told him how things with her husband were boring and stable, but nonetheless exhausting. “I feel like I need to walk on eggshells around him all the time. I never know what’s going to set him off. And when he goes off, he can be so cruel.”

“Keeping things stable takes energy,” he replied. “I guess it’s a little counter-intuitive, since you think of Newton’s first law: a body at rest will stay at rest. But the reality is different. Think about an old water tank you find in the woods. It’s sitting there, doing nothing, and yet it’s slowly falling apart. Eventually the rust eats away at it beyond a certain threshold, and it collapses under its own weight.”

“Okay?” Lisa replied. She had no idea where he was going with this.

“But if you actively maintained that tank, it could last forever. You just need to sand it and give it a new coat of paint now and then. You must tend to it. It’s stable, but to keep it stable requires that you put energy into it.”

“Like my marriage,” Lisa said.

“Exactly,” he said. “A marriage takes work. You have to constantly put energy into it to keep it from falling apart. Going nowhere takes energy. Stability isn’t what you get when you do nothing. It’s what you can hope to achieve when you work hard.”

“And working hard is exhausting,” Lisa added.

That was a text conversation, but who cares? What’s important is the dialog, the connection, the power dynamic being established, all the usual stuff that character interaction gives you. The fact that they happened to be texting instead of talking is incidental and not at all important.

(End rant.)

Regrets is now Free

About a year ago I wrote a post in which I showed that nobody wants to read novellas, so there is no point writing them. And shortly after that I accidentally wrote a novella. It’s now a year later and despite having a dozen 5-star reviews on Amazon, including this downright amazing one, and having the low, low price of $0.99, I’ve only sold 43. That means I’ve made $15.05, which is my break-even point since I spent $14.95 on the stock photo of a keycard for the cover. I’m going to take that $0.10 profit and spend it on hookers and blow. BRB.

At least I’ve proved myself right. Nobody wants to read novellas.

I’ve decided to go ahead and make this story free. I popped over to Smashwords, which I use to get my ebooks onto everywhere except Amazon, and set the price to zero. Then I asked KDP Support (love them) to price-match on Amazon to make the price zero. That happened today, and I immediately got about 50 downloads. This was before I even told anyone I made it free. So maybe there’s some pent-up demand for five-star free smut, even if it’s just novella-length. (It isn’t even novella length. It’s like half-novella length at best. It’s more of a short story that went long.)

It’s not a bad piece of pulp, so if you haven’t read it yet, you should probably go ahead. It’ll only take you an hour. You can get it at Amazon and every other ebook retailer.

I have no illusions that this is going to lead to sell-through to my novels. I tried that already with my short story Attractions, and despite that also being really, really good, and having a teaser from my novel in there and everything, it’s led to no sales to speak of. Across all channels I’ve given away over 1000 copies of Attractions and it’s yielded bupkis. So no, I’m not making Regrets free to draw in readers for the Entropy trilogy. I’m making it free because it’s not selling anyway, so why the hell not make it free?

I hope you enjoy it! Leave more 5-star reviews!

Joshua Edward Smith – Gravity (Entropy Book 3)

Nice review of my third novel…

REVIEW

Sequels are difficult to write well but a trilogy is even more difficult. Gravity offers a great end to this story. There are sufficient time lapses to make things more interesting. The change in relationship status between the characters over time is done remarkably well. I didn’t find the sex factor as compelling as in the previous two books. But hey, that is simply my opinion. Nevertheless, the ending of the book was sensational. For those, like me, that need to see the resolution in characters’ lives, this is a must read novel.

BLURB

A chance meeting brings Sir and Lisa together after five years. But Sir is in a budding relationship and Lisa’s life is in chaos. Could a radical change in Sir’s situation finally let things work between them? Gravity is a complex and moving exploration of the turmoil older people face bringing romance and commitment back…

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The Entropy Soundtrack

Can a novel series have a soundtrack?

Can a novel series have a soundtrack? I mean, movies get soundtracks, right? Why not books?

The male protagonist in my novel series (Entropy) is an amateur jazz pianist, somewhat of a jazz history expert, and a dancer. So naturally, music plays a big part in his stories. I decided to comb through all three novels and put together a comprehensive list of all the song references. Then I created a Spotify playlist which I’m calling the Entropy Soundtrack. Fun, right?

It’s mostly jazz, but because the last book—Gravity—includes two weddings, there are also a couple oddball things you might not expect. But all soundtracks are like that, I think: 80% songs that kind of fit together and 20% songs that are totally weird and out of place.

Go check it out. I dropped a link to this list to a few of my beta readers (once you beta read for me, you beta everything for life), and the consensus is that it’s a pretty awesome list. Here’s the link again: bit.ly/entropy-music

Joshua Edward Smith – Gravity

Maggie Jane Schuler

Sir and Lisa’s journey explores the inner self and the road to a strong emotional and physical bond with a partner. Joshua Edward Smith’s final installment of the Entropy Series is a beautiful tribute to the human condition. While he uses the erotic nature of BDSM to convey the message, the Entropy Series is more of a philosophical exploration of the lifestyle. The complex themes of unconditional love, trust, and genuine happiness truly run their course through the series. From the unraveling of growing apart from one’s partner to personal tragedy, and rebuilding a life, The Entropy series covers it all and much more. Smith’s eloquent style deepens the richness of the text and leaves the reader critically analyzing the complex structures which exist among people with regards to the vulnerable acts associated with affairs of the heart. For a sophisticated and elegant read try your hand at the Entropy Series, you won’t be disappointed

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Goodreads Gravity Giveaway!

We are getting closer and closer to launch of my next novel! I’ve reviewed the print proof, got the last of the beta reader fixes in, and submitted what I hope are the last of the changes to CreateSpace and KDP.

Next up is running a giveaway on Goodreads, which started today and ends on launch day, March 28. Please click here to enter. I’ll wait.

The reason I run a Goodreads giveaway is simple: It’ll get my book on the “to read” shelf of several hundred people. Will they read it? Nope. The people who enter these things have literally thousands of books on their “to read” shelf. So why bother? Because when you look at the book page, it’ll have lots and lots of activity with all those people adding it to their “to read” list. I believe that when people stumble across the book page, they’ll see all that activity and assume this is a “real” book, not just some random self-published vanity project.

To maximize the numbers, I run my giveaways globally. US-only giveaways are a lot cheaper because you can ship the book anywhere in the US for just $3. If someone outside the US wins this, it may cost me upward of $25 to send the book. Maybe more if it’s someplace particularly remote. And the winner will probably be international, because that’s the bulk of the people who will enter. The US-only giveaway market is crowded. There are tons of them going on all the time. But fully international ones are more rare, so my book will be among the few those folks see available.

Seriously, please go enter. And good luck!

Authoring Milestones and Other Numbers

I have a big spreadsheet where I keep track of all the numbers that define my fledgling career as an author. I pull reports from Amazon and other places periodically to keep it all up to date. Today I did that and I found I had passed two milestones:

  • 500 books sold
  • $1000 in royalties

(For context, my first novel was published about 18 months ago. Since then I’ve added a free short story, a $0.99 novella, and a second novel. A third novel will be launched at the end of this month.)

By “sold” I mean someone actually paid money for the book. I have a short story that I give away for free, and I recently let Smashwords run a free promo of my novella. I’m not counting those. (That would add just over 600 more to the total.)

And by royalties, I mean the gross royalties I’ve received. Other than $15 here and there for a stock photo or a print proof, I don’t have any other costs to pay back, because I do my own editing (with a lot of help from author friends), promotion, etc. In round numbers that $1000 breaks down to:

  • $300 in the bank
  • $100 in stock photos and proof copies
  • $300 in Twitter ads that generated $200 in royalties
  • $100 in promotions that were probably worth it:
    • Goodreads Giveaways to make my book look popular
    • Amazon Giveaways to build a following on Amazon
    • A Fussy Librarian promo of the free short story Attractions to reach new readers
  • $200 in “learning experiences”:
    • BookBub ads don’t work
    • Only US/UK/CA people will buy my books
    • Buying ads to promote $0.99 sales is pointless

There are some other interesting numbers in that spreadsheet. In terms of units sold, my channels break down:

  • Print: 9%
  • Kindle Sales: 69%
  • Kindle Unlimited Reads: 18%
  • Signed Copies: 4%

However, the royalties tell a slightly different story:

  • Print: 9%
  • Kindle Sales: 62%
  • Kindle Unlimited Reads: 17%
  • Signed copies: 12%

Signed copies are a pain, of course, but the margins are a lot better because Amazon isn’t getting a cut. I charge $18 which includes shipping in the US. That’s only $5 more than my paperback goes for on Amazon, and probably the same net cost to the buyer unless they have Amazon Prime. (Send me a Twitter DM if you want a signed copy of any of my novels.)

Another interesting metric on that spreadsheet is my sell-through rate. That is, what percentage of people who read Entropy go on to read Duality. It’s a little tricky because I’m mostly interested in people who just read Entropy going on to read Duality, not people who read Entropy a long time ago. So what I do is look at gross sales of each, but only starting a couple months after Duality had been released. Using that approach, my sell-through rate is 32% and that number has been consistent for the past few months. So a third of the people who buy the first novel choose to read the sequel. I have no idea if that’s good or bad by industry standards, but that’s my number.

One last number that I like to watch is my average net royalty. This is the $300 that actually made it into my bank account divided by the 500 books I sold, so 60 cents. (Actually it’s 64 cents right now when you use the actual numbers, not the rounded off ones.) This has been steadily dropping since I launched, which makes sense because I have lowered my prices over time and a lot of my Entropy sales are a direct result of Twitter ads, which I try to keep at break-even, but sometimes don’t quite make it. The “learning experiences” I mentioned above that didn’t sell any books also drag this down. Without those it would be about a buck.

My next novel launches in a couple weeks, and it’ll be interesting to watch how it impacts everything. Even though it is the third and final of the series, the new book actually makes a good stand-alone read. So unlike Duality, which I couldn’t market on its own, I am going to do some marketing of Gravity by itself. If it works, that could generate sell-through back to the earlier books, as people want to get to know the characters better. Time will tell.

Gravity Launch Plan

Gravity, the third and final novel in the Entropy series has survived my beta readers. All but one of them loved it, which is par for the course. The one who didn’t like it had issues with the story line, not the writing, which I’m okay with. Here is a tremendously helpful quote from Stephen King (whose writing I alternately love and hate, depending on the book, but who I admire very much as an author). I re-read it every time I send something out for beta reading…

The best beta feedback I get is the “hey, he forgot to take off his pants” or “you just used that exact phrase two paragraphs ago.” Along with the perennial, “would you please fucking learn to use commas correctly?”

Anyway, that one hater hasn’t derailed me, and so with all the pants removed and redundancies sorted, a final copy has gone to my printer, CreateSpace. They will have a gorgeous paperback proof copy in my hot little hands next week. Actually, I ordered two, so I have one to give away on Goodreads. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve picked a launch date of March 28. There is a lot to do before that, and I thought it might be fun for you to see it all laid out. I’ve launched novels twice now, so I have a pretty set procedure.

  • Receive the print proof. Start proofreading when I can find time, but do that in parallel with all the other stuff I’m about to list, none of which requires that my text be final.
  • Publish on CreateSpace, then immediately pull it from all channels. This creates a page on Amazon.com for the print version. (See this post for an explanation of why we do this.)
  • Make the Kindle version, and upload that to KDP. Publish it for pre-order, with a launch date of March 28.
  • Ask KDP support to link the Kindle and Print versions on Amazon.com.
  • Set up shortcuts at mybook.to for both versions.
  • Set up pages on Goodreads and Librarything for the new book.
  • Schedule a Gooodreads international giveaway of that extra proof copy.
  • Send my beta readers a link to the Amazon page so they can post reviews.
  • Draft a couple ARC (advance review copy) reviewers who write those crazy reviews on Goodreads with all the animated GIFs.
  • Send out ARCs to folks who have reviewed my previous books on their blogs.
  • Finish proofreading the paperback and update the print and Kindle versions as needed.
  • Update the back matter on Duality Kindle edition to include a link to Gravity.
  • Order a dozen copies of the final book, for signed sales.
  • Make pull-quote graphics for Twitter? I don’t know. I didn’t get any traction from these for Duality, so I might not bother with them this time.
  • Send a note to my mailing list announcing that the Kindle version is available for preorder, and telling them how to get signed copies if they want.
  • Gently remind my beta readers that I really need them to post that review.
  • Send the proof to whoever won the Goodreads giveaway.
  • Tweet about Kindle preorder.
  • Run a Twitter Ad campaign and tweet a lot on launch day.

Did I miss anything? I’ve never been a fan of the online launch party, or the “blog tour.” After all this is done, I’ll be focusing on awareness on Twitter, making sure everyone who read the first two books knows the new book is out. (I still find followers on Twitter every day who don’t know I’m an author. It boggles the mind.)

Gravity Title, Cover, and Blurb Reveal!

You might be aware that I’ve been working on the third novel in the Entropy series. Entropy was supposed to be a standalone novel. But my readers complained that I left it on too much of a cliffhanger (I totally didn’t). I finally gave in and wrote Duality. That was definitely the end of things. Nowhere to go from there.

Then NaNoWriMo rolled around and all the authors on Twitter were writing about writing. And I started to get the itch to maybe do something. Not write a novel in a month. That’s bonkers. But to maybe work on a new novel. I talked to a bunch of my writer friends about what I should do, but I wasn’t making any progress. That’s when my buddy Vania piped up and said I was blocked thinking of something to write about because the Lisa & Sir story wasn’t finished. I had to write another in the series. Vania is the absolute worst. Because she was right, of course.

And so I went ahead and wrote another novel. I used the same process I used for the first two, which is a sure-fire way to get a novel done in about 100 days. (You write 1% of it a day. You can do the rest of the math yourself, I guess.) I finished it this past weekend, and it is in the hands of my beta readers now.

If you look at the first two titles (Entropy and Duality) you will notice they are both from the Jeopardy! category 7 letter science words ending in y. So obviously, I had to choose another one of those for this book. I wrote a program that generated the list of 1,367 words ending in y with 7 letters. Then I wrote another program to sort them alphabetically backward (ending in ay, by, cy, etc.). That made it easier to scan the list, and I culled it to this list of 20 words that fit the bill:

fallacy primacy cogency urgency prosody synergy theurgy alchemy destiny euphony harmony mystery roguery rivalry fantasy ecstasy impiety satiety clarity tenuity gravity ataraxy

There are some great titles in there, but only one that is a real science word. Gravity.

I figured that out shortly after I started writing, so I was able to work various references to gravity (both meanings) into the story. Here’s the blurb (I used the formula I explained here):

A chance meeting brings Sir and Lisa together after five years. But Sir is in a budding relationship and Lisa’s life is in chaos. Could a radical change in Sir’s situation finally let things work between them? Gravity is a complex and moving exploration of the turmoil older people face bringing romance and commitment back to single life.

Main points I’m getting across: we are going to try to get the band back together and they are “older” (a euphemism for mid-fifties). Nobody writes erotic romance novels around people in that decade of life, so that’s a distinguishing thing about this book.

All that’s left is the cover:

Full wrap cover

Full wrap cover

This carries a lot of design elements from my other covers, which you can look at on my Amazon author page if you like. There is a ton of symbolism going on here, as you would expect. I’ll do my best not to give away any spoilers as I explain it…

Starting on the back, we have a feather. That’s a literal reference to something said in the book, and also the falling feather is a common visual metaphor for gravity. Up front we have two pool balls. There’s another gravity reference there, as they are a little like planets. But more than that, the fact there are two is significant. Entropy had two flowers. Duality (ironically) went to a sole glass, representing how that story was more centered on Sir. Now we are back to two, as we try to get the couple reunited.

The pool balls are touching, which is a hopeful sign. And to me, it looks like the cue ball is a little bigger, dominating the 8 ball—again, representing our main protagonists. It goes without saying that billiards is a literal thing that happens in the story. And here’s one subtle thing: in the game “8 Ball” (which is what most American’s play) you sink the 8 ball last. So we have the cue ball meeting up with what we hope is the last ball it’s ever going to touch.

I’ll get the beta feedback soon, do my final edits, then get a print proof from CreateSpace and read it on paper. So it feels like we are 3-4 weeks from launch. I’ll keep you posted.