Hard Tweets Explained: NäN

In the early days of computers, pretty much the only thing everyone could agree on was how to represent small positive integers. Other than that, nobody could agree on anything. They couldn’t agree on how many bits were in a byte. Or how many bytes you should work on together (called a “word”). Or how the bytes in a word should be ordered (biggest to smallest, or smallest to biggest). They couldn’t agree on how to represent negative numbers (sign-magnitude or two’s-compliment). They couldn’t agree on how to map letters to numbers (EBCDIC or ASCII). And they really, really, really couldn’t agree on how to represent real numbers (the kind with decimal points in them).

Over time, all these arguments got settled. Except the word ordering one. They still can’t agree on that. And the final decision on how to represent numbers (both integers and real numbers) was worked out in a committee that produced the IEEE 754 standard. That standard even covers weird things like what’s the value of 1➗0 (+infinity), -1➗0 (-infinity), and what to do with equations that make no sense. For example, if you add +infinity to +infinity you get another +infinity. But if you add +infinity to -infinity, what do you get? It’s not zero. They dump all those strange cases into a bucket called “not a number.”

Think about that: In the standard for how to represent numbers, there’s also a standard way to represent things that aren’t.

“Not a Number,” abbreviated “NaN” is pretty easy to get. 0➗0 for example. Or you can get it by treating something that isn’t a number at all as a number, if you are using one of the modern languages that lets you make mistakes like that.

IEEE 754 didn’t only specify how to store a NaN in computer memory, but it also gave rules for how to handle it in equations. And one of the rules is that it refuses to be ordered. 0<NaN is false. But 0>NaN is also false. A weird result of that rule is that NaN cannot equal itself.

Suppose you are working with a computer language that uses === to mean “is equal to” (yes, such languages exist). In that language if you have a variable X and you test X === X, you’d think that had to be true. But it’s not when X is holding a NaN.

And that brings us to our tweet.

Nän (also spelled “naan”) is a kind of bread they serve in Indian restaurants. Funny story. I was once on a bus at work going from one building to another, and a new Indian restaurant had just gone in. And the bus driver said, “Hey, is that place any good?”

And I said, “Yeah.”

And the bus driver said, “So, what do they serve there? Like maize and buffalo and stuff?”

The bus driver was not joking. Sigh.

Anyway, I digress. So nän is a kind of bread, and NaN is a numberish thing that isn’t equal to itself. And unless you are that bus driver, I’m guessing you can put the rest of those pieces together.

And if you are that bus driver, I think you were one hell of a great bus driver, and I really appreciated you, and some day I’d like to take you to that restaurant for some nän.

 

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The Black Magic of Getting Your Book Tweet Right

I’ve been doing this book marketing thing for quite a while now, and one thing that I often need to help people with is getting their book link tweets right. I figured it’s time for me to put all my tricks in one place. This is that place.

“People click my link and it says the book isn’t available”

The problem here is that there isn’t just one Amazon. There are lots and lots of them. If you share a link to amazon.com, and someone in the UK looks at that link, they’ll see your book, but Amazon won’t let them buy it. They need to find your book at amazon.co.uk. But they aren’t going to do that, are they? It’s a minor miracle that you got them to click your link in the first place. No way they are going to go typing in a search to a different website to find your book in the right store. Not. Gonna. Happen.

The solution (which I’ve mentioned before) is to use mybook.to (there are other services, but I like this one best). It’s basically a link shortening service like bit.ly, but it is smart about geography and all those Amazon stores. It looks at where the person is clicking from, and sends them to the right place. Also, because they haven’t been around for 100 years like bit.ly, you can get pretty much whatever short link you want. I’ve never had any trouble getting the exact titles of my books as my short link.

Their links work for both Kindle and paperback books, so if you’re doing both, you’ll generate two links. These are the links I use:

When you set up the link you want to make sure that the Amazon link is like this:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/{ASIN or ISBN}
Be sure to use https (not http) and you don’t need your title in there. If you copy the link from Amazon, just delete the junk between .com and /dp and if there’s junk after the ASIN/ISBN, delete that, too. Obviously you should test the link to make sure you didn’t delete too much.

“I messed up and put in the wrong link, how do I fix it?”

After you create the link at mybook.to and you test it, if you find that you messed up and didn’t put the right link in there, you can fix it as follows:

  1. Delete the short link you created
  2. Create the link again, not making a mistake this time
  3. Go to this address mybook.to/clear-link-cache.php?url={your nickname} for example, if you created mybook.to/warandpeace you’d need to hit mybook.to/clear-link-cache.php?url=warandpeace

That’s not documented anywhere. The nice guy who administers the site told me that trick when he and I were debugging another problem which I’m about to tell you about.

“My tweet doesn’t have the preview of my book!”

So you’ve created your short link and tested it and it works great. Now you tweet it, but all that shows up is the short link, not the pretty cover and blurb and star rating from Amazon (known as a “Twitter Card”). Why is that?

This happens because when your book is brand new, Amazon doesn’t generate the right “meta tags” on the page for the Twitter card. No idea why, but it pretty much never does. So you have to hit the page over and over, and eventually it starts generating the right tags. But there’s a catch. Twitter saves the first version of that page it sees, so even once Amazon is generating the right meta tags, Twitter ignores them.

You can actually address both of these problems with one simple trick! There’s a tool that developers use to make sure their meta tags are good. You can use this tool to both force Amazon to re-generate the page, and to force Twitter to pay attention to the changes.

Go here: https://cards-dev.twitter.com/validator and enter the mybook.to link. Be sure to start with http, like http://mybook.to/warandpeace. If you forget the http, it won’t work, and the error message is confusing. Click the “Preview Card” button and you’ll either see a card, or you won’t. If you see the card, you’re done.

If you don’t see the card, count to ten and click preview card again. No card? Count to ten and click it again. You may have to do this many, many, many times. Trust me. This will eventually work. Once you see the card, you’re done. Go look at Twitter and you’ll see that the tweet which didn’t have the card, now suddenly does have the card.

“You didn’t answer my question!”

Ask in the comments. I can probably help.

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.