How to use short stories to promote a novel

beyond.jpgI read and enjoyed Deborah’s review of Rayne Hall’s Deep Point of View in October, and when I discovered Hall’s entire series was in Kindle Unlimited I gave several a try. My favorite was Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels, which charged me up to put together a free anthology of paranormal short stories and novellas with some friends. (I hope you’ll check it out — I’m really proud of it. And did I mention it’s FREE?)

Ahem, back to the point. I know everyone’s time is limited, so I wrote up a quick cheat sheet based on Hall’s excellent book. I hope this helps make your own short story attempt a success!

Goal: Your promotional short story needs to represent your novel and brand. So it should:

  • Be in the same genre and subgenre. (My example: Urban fantasy with paranormal romance crossover)
  • Contain many of the same motifs (My example: shifters, spunky heroines, first person POV, romance with low steam level but moderate sexual tension, focus on intrigue/politics/world-building, action and suspense, outsiders finding their place in the world)
  • Elicit the same mood (My example: page-turning, light, romantic, character-driven, action-packed)
  • Appeal to your average reader (My example: forty year old housewife who yearns for adventure and romance)
  • Be set in the same world (My example: modern USA…with werewolves)


  • There should be one main character and no more than four side characters. Two side characters is optimal — one who’s pulling the character toward what she should do and one who’s pulling the character toward what she shouldn’t do.
  • Good main characters are your novel’s protagonist (if the story is a prequel) or a side character. Side characters are especially handy for those of you writing straight romance since many readers won’t want to see your novel’s romantic lead in an earlier relationship.
  • Use the same motivation checklist you’d use when writing a novel: Who is she? What does she want? Why? What’s at stake? Is there a ticking clock to ratchet up the tension? What obstacles stand in her way?


  • Should match your novel as closely as possible
  • Look for a single location, especially a “closed room” where the characters can’t leave
  • Good settings are unique and atmospheric, matching the mood of the novel

51uBNuIKMfL._UY250_Structure (for a 3,000 word short story):

  • Beginning — This should clearly state the protagonist’s problem
  • First plot event — Something happens, not just the protagonist being lonely or sad
  • Second plot event — Ditto
  • Dilemma, danger, or sacrifice
  • Conclusion — Does she get what she wants…or what she needs?

If you get stuck and need to be walked through the process in a workshop manner, I definitely recommend Rayne Hall’s book, from which I drew this information. It’s 99 cents, or free with Kindle Unlimited. And don’t forget to check out your free copy of Beyond Secret Worlds to see how we took this idea and ran with it. I’m looking forward to seeing your own experiments here soon.

How to get your book on a bestseller list

Happily Ever AlphaI’m taking part in another box set, this one with 21 paranormal romances bundled together for the low price of 99 cents during preorder. One of our big goals this time around is to hit a bestseller list, and I thought you might be interested in some of the tips I ran across as I researched lists.

There are two big lists indie authors are eligible for — the USA Today bestseller list and the New York Times bestseller list. In either case, the best way to aim for a list is to have a long preorder since all of the preorders (at least those from within the U.S.) count toward the launch week’s sales for these lists. However, you really have to choose which list you’re going for up front since it’s best to have your preorder go live on a Monday to hit the NYT list, versus on a Tuesday to hit the USA Today list.

The latter is a good choice if you’re not sure of your marketing prowess since USA Today lists 150 bestsellers each week. At a low time of year like this, indie authors have been known to hit the USA Today bestseller list with as few as 5,000 U.S. sales. On the other hand, you may need as many as 8,000 sales during the post-Christmas season to hit the list.

paranormal romanceThe rub is that you have to reach a certain threshold on a non-Amazon retailer before you’re eligible for the USA Today Bestseller list, and some people think that threshold is 500 on Barnes & Noble. This is hard and I suspect is what holds many indie authors back from hitting the USA Today bestseller list. So if you’re intent upon list-hitting, it’s worth putting some effort into reading a nook-specific readership. (If you want to help us along in our goal of reaching those all-important 500 nook sales…while filling your ereader for a long winter…you can preorder here.)

Of course, list-hitting isn’t the only benefit of a multi-author box set. My experience with our previous box set (on sale at 99 cents starting November 12) showed that these collaborations are an awesome way to reach new readers and boost other books in the series. Plus, they’re a great asset to the indie author’s bottom line all on their own. Proof positive that even if you try for a list and fail, there’s value in the effort.

Multi-author box sets

Secret Worlds

What’s the hottest new book marketing tactic I learned in 2015? Taking part in multi-author box sets!

This strategy is most appropriate for authors writing novels in a closely interlinked series and is an alternative to setting the first book free. Instead, you leave your book for sale, team up with several other authors writing in your genre, and sell the box set of first books in series as cheaply as you can.

Sell-through to other books in your series will be your primary income source. But if you enroll the box set in Kindle Unlimited, you might be surprised by how much the compilation itself brings in. For example, Secret Worlds, the box set I’m currently involved in, netted around $2,500 apiece for each author during its peak month! Meanwhile, my own book two hovered around a rank of 10,000 in the Amazon store for months, and book three launched with a bang due to the visibility of the box set.

Here are some tips if you want to follow my lead:

  • Choose an experienced box-set manager. Secret Worlds was spearheaded by the amazing Rebecca Hamilton, who carefully set up weekly marketing tasks for each participant. Expect to spend about an hour per week on the project — the time will be worth it! We also each chipped in a couple of hundred bucks up front to pay for promotional pushes.
  • Know your goals. The only downside of my current box-set experience is that we were shooting for the New York Times bestseller list at first, which required us to take all of our books out of KDP Select and list them wide. This really killed my sales on Amazon since I get a lot more borrows than buys. We ended up missing the list and not making much money during that period. But once we pulled the box set back into Select, borrows more than made up for the preorder push.
  • Look for a group of authors with diverse talents. I think part of the reason our box set did so well is because each author brought her own unique marketing tactics to the table. We have a couple of authors who make phenomenal promotional images, some authors who have huge email lists, and several authors who are pros at twitter or facebook groups. Combining all of those tactics together made an unbeatable team.
  • Plan to price your box set at 99 cents. This is a size issue — after your box-set file reaches a certain number of pages (not sure what), Amazon kicks your minimum price up above 99 cents. We got away with price matching with other sites while our box set was wide, which helped us get in the top 100 paid list. But sales of the box set have been slowly declining ever since we pulled the book off other sites and had to price it at $2.99. Remember, box-set buyers are bargain hunters, so they want to get their books dirt cheap. It might be safer to only put ten or so books in a box set rather than the 21 novels included in ours.

Wolf RampantSound intriguing? You can join this facebook group and keep an eye out for a box set that might suit your books. Good luck!

Aimee Easterling is the author of the Wolf Rampant series, along with several other short stories and novels. She’s currently hard at work on the first book in a brand new series.

Alpha Ascendant excerpt

Wolf RampantI’m thrilled to have completed my first trilogy, so I thought I’d share the beginning of the last book in the series. Alpha Ascendant isn’t meant to be read as a standalone, but you can probably figure out what’s going on….


Charred remnants of the pack’s former compound stood like ominous sentinels in the springtime dusk. Beneath my feet, a thick layer of ash muffled my footsteps but the sound of voices drew me deeper into the burnt-out timbers.

“No, dude, I’m pretty sure she went that way.”

Blaze, the most youthful yahoo, sounded just as jittery as I felt. Our young-adult pack members had headed over the mountain an hour earlier in search of the fire-proof lockbox Wolfie hoped might have survived last winter’s flames. And, against my better judgment, I’d allowed Ember to tag along. After all, it was next to impossible to deny the precocious wolf pup anything.

Now I regretted my lax parenting. Because it sounded very much like Ember had been mislaid.

“Do you think she might have fallen down a hole somewhere?” Keith asked, focusing my own worries on images too horrific for words. Our beloved wolfling impaled on a shattered floor joist, unconscious from blood loss. Or perhaps she’d hit her head while plummeting to the ground, so her brain was now swelling dangerously within her tender skull. I shivered…and heard a similar sentiment expressed in my fifteen-year-old nephew’s voice.

I couldn’t spare much sympathy for the teenager, though. Not when a tiny wolf pup was unaccounted for within a conglomeration of burnt-out trailers that might as well have been a mine field.

Alpha AscendantIn human years, Ember would be around nine years old, just about ready for fourth grade. Definitely not ready to be set loose unattended in an area where one false step would see you falling through the floor or bringing down the walls around your ears.

I’d been slowly pacing forward as I listened, so I was close enough now to make out the forms of each yahoo as I stepped up behind them. In addition to Keith and Blaze, the slightly older Glen and the new-recruit David were both present. Fen was too female to be a true yahoo, but she’d stepped into the role of older-and-wiser guide after the yahoos’ previous ringleader had died in battle the winter before. Continue reading

Have you tried a thunderclap?


One of the new launch-publicity methods I’m trying out is a thunderclap campaign. If you’re like me and eschew social media whenever possible, a thunderclap can be a way to get that launch bang without maintaining a large twitter or facebook following. Or at least I hope that will turn out to be the case!

“What’s a thunderclap?” you might say. It’s a bit like a kickstarter, but with no money changing hands. Instead, people pledge to share your image, note, and link with their facebook, twitter, and/or tumblr audience on a specific day. You can spend up to 60 days accumulating supporters, and then all of the shares go off at once with a bang…or, rather, with a thunderclap.

The tricky part is getting all of those supporters lined up in the first place. Like kickstarter, there’s a minimum (100 supporters in this case) or nothing will happen at all. So you need to hustle a bit to get all of your ducks in a row. I’ve asked my facebook friends for their help and will beg for support from my email list the next time a newsletter goes out, but I’m getting most of my supporters by joining this facebook group where you can trade support for each others’ campaigns. To keep your request in the public eye, be sure to thank each supporter and to acknowledge as you support them in return. The return comment is just polite…and it also pushes your post back to the top of the group feed so others will notice your campaign.

Embrace the Adventure

The other important factor in your thunderclap, of course, is to make the tweet/post you eventually send out as enticing as possible. Being a twitter neophyte, I studied up on hashtags a bit and worked up the best image I could come up with for the project. Here’s hoping the effort will pay off!

If you’d like to support my thunderclap campaign, you can do so here. And I’ll do my best to remember to report back in three weeks when all of the shares come rolling in. I’m curious to see how a thunderclap compares to a paid promotion!

An excerpt (better late than never, right?)

Jaguar at the PortalI missed posting during excerpt week because I was simply too embedded in my current work in progress to polish up even a little bit for your enjoyment. So I hope you don’t mind me posting the first scene here now that the book is at the copy editor!


Ixchel always dreaded May 3, but not because she worried about growing old. No, the twenty-seven year old was more afraid of never getting the chance to see her next birthday than of sprouting gray hairs.

Which meant she usually ended up running into doors on her birthday due to excessive over-the-shoulder looking in search of brothers who had every reason to wish her harm.

And, yet, nothing bad has happened for the last nine years, Ixchel reminded herself at dawn as she and Mr. Fuzzy set off for his morning constitutional. The coddled spaniel had been in her charge for five days now while his owner was on vacation, and the veterinarian had quickly grown attached to the borrowed bundle of fur. She’d even gotten to the point where she’d deemed the dog attentive enough to run off-leash…assuming they set out the back way and stayed far from any roads, that is.

Now the dog bounded ahead just out of sight, and Ixchel hurried her steps to catch up as she heard him begin to bark. It would be just her luck if Mr. Fuzzy got skunked or otherwise ended up in trouble that would make the vet look bad when his owner returned that afternoon. Nothing like failing to take care of the mayor’s dog to turn a newcomer to the community into the county pariah.

Ixchel wasn’t terribly concerned, though. After all, Mr. Fuzzy liked to bark at squirrels, birds, and even run-of-the-mill trees that the dog thought were looking at him funny. So, most of the vet’s attention remained focused on self-chastisement. Today is just another day, she told herself. It’s high time I got over my jitters.

Ahead, Mr. Fuzzy came into view, his front paws resting on the trunk of a spreading elm tree as he yapped up into the canopy. Treed another butterfly, have you? Ixchel thought with a grin. But she still did her best to bring the dog to heel. “Here, boy!” the vet called, before craning her neck to see what the spaniel had discovered.

Oh no.

This couldn’t be happening. Not in the safest place Ixchel could think of in which to sink her roots. Her practice was rural enough that the vet couldn’t see any neighbors out either the front or the back doors, but the building wasn’t located deep in the back country. So there really shouldn’t have been a tremendous black feline crouched on that branch. Maybe if Ixchel blinked, she’d realize that Mr. Fuzzy had simply treed a raccoon.

Nope, still there. Still a mountain-lion-sized cat whose fur seemed to suck light out of the morning air due to the intensity of its blackness.

“Mr. Fuzzy, let’s go,” the vet called, trying to keep her voice calm but instead hearing the words emerge as a shriek. She wasn’t sure what kind of creature the huge black cat would turn out to be, yet she was pretty sure the feline could eat her charge for dinner.

But Mr. Fuzzy was too intent on the hunt to listen to his temporary mistress, and the feline appeared to be growing annoyed at the spaniel’s persistent barking. So Ixchel stood frozen in place and watched as the cat stalked down one of the spreading limbs. It was now nearly at the trunk and only ten feet above the smaller animal’s head.

This can’t be happening!

Ixchel told her feet that the smart thing to do would be to run away, with or without the cuddly-but-not-overly-bright spaniel. Mr. Fuzzy was only a dog, after all. And if the vet walked any closer, she would likely be mauled by the sharp claws that she knew to be embedded in the feline’s dinner-plate paws.

But Mr. Fuzzy was the closest thing Ixchel had to a friend at the moment. And how sad is that? Plus, she really didn’t want to imagine the bad PR resulting from a dog she was boarding being eaten by a cat. So, instead of following her own advice, the vet instead found herself striding directly toward the spaniel and lunging for his collar.

facebookAt the same moment, the cat jumped down and landed lightly on its feet mere inches from Ixchel and her borrowed pet. The beast’s eyes were a yellow more intense than Ixchel had ever seen on a living creature, and they seemed to bore through her skin and into her soul.

Focus. What did they say to do if you meet a mountain lion in the wild? Stand tall and raise your arms so you looked bigger than you really were, maybe. Or was that the recommended procedure for scaring off a bear?

Neither option seemed like a possibility when Mr. Fuzzy continued to think he was a rottweiler trapped inside a lap dog’s body. The canine lunged forward, the feline hissed, and Ixchel found her disobedient feet following directly after those of her charge.

Her heart was beating so fast the vet thought she might pass out, but she was somehow able to latch one hand into the spaniel’s collar before he could sink his teeth into the massive cat. Ixchel yanked Mr. Fuzzy up into her arms, ignoring his yelp of annoyance at being manhandled, then she forced herself to stand upright rather than turning and running away.

The vet fully expected to feel claws or teeth sinking into her skin at any moment. But, instead, the tremendous feline merely stood his ground and gazed directly into her face.

That makes no sense, the vet thought inanely. Feral cats never look you in the eye.

But the cat was looking. And he was so close that if Ixchel dropped the struggling Mr. Fuzzy, she could have reached out and stroked the feline’s fur.

Yep, I’m definitely going into shock now.

“I’m sorry we bothered you,” Ixchel said in her best soothe-the-terrifying-animal voice. “That was very rude of Mr. Fuzzy, and I’m going to take him right home and put him on bread and water. No doggie treats for him! You won’t have to worry about either of us bothering you ever again.”

As she spoke, the vet slowly backed away, her gaze still trained on the wild animal that could so easily bite off her hand. And why should he stop at a hand? The words ran through her mind like a hamster in a wheel. The cat’s jaws are so huge he could probably consume my entire arm in one gulp and have room for a hot-dog chaser.

Then, so quickly that Ixchel almost didn’t see him move, the cat turned and loped off into the shadows beneath the trees. Immediately, Mr. Fuzzy changed his tune from barking to face-licking, marring the vet’s view of the long black tail disappearing from view. And Ixchel remembered how to breathe at last.

Could it really be that simple? Could the feline actually be gone?

Lifting the hand that she’d been using to pat the brave little spaniel in an attempt to calm him, Ixchel fingered the cat charm strung around her neck. Yes, birthdays weren’t to be trusted. It was time to head back to her practice and hope that nothing else terrible happened on this third day of May.


Are you hooked? If so, Jaguar at the Portal is available for a limited time at 99 cents. Snag your copy now and it will be auto-delivered to your kindle when the book goes live. Thanks for all of your support!

Choosing the best title for your ebook


I know this is excerpt week, but I’m putting the finished touches on the first draft of my newest novel (on sale during preorder for 99 cents!)…which means that none of that book is ready for prime time and my head refuses to think of anything else. So I hope you’ll get something out of this title-choosing post instead.

Of the three-legged stool of title, blurb, and cover, my current book’s title gave me the most trouble. And I’ve also realized, from watching my own reading habits, that a book’s title has a big responsibility even after the text is bought. If a reader has a stuffed black and white kindle (like I do) and a bad memory, then title is the one last shot a book has for pulling itself out of the sea of other books and making someone choose to read the first page. (Yes, we all want our books to be bought, but you don’t gain fans unless those bought books are actually read!)

So I decided to get serious. I’m working on an urban-fantasy novel about a were-jaguar and an ancient Mexican god, but my working title (Stray) just didn’t seem right. After doing extensive brainstorming, I narrowed down my title choices to The Olmec Curse, The Olmec Trap, Tezcatlipoca’s Paw, Jaguar at the Portal, Hunt for the Wind God’s Tomb, and The Jaguar Priestess. Then I headed over to and set up a survey to find out which title potential readers would choose.

I think it’s important to narrow down your options to people who are likely to read within your genre, which you can do in one of two ways. The more expensive way is to set up a two-part survey, where you ask “Do you read urban fantasy?” as the first part, then explore your titles as the second part of the survey. These surveys cost approximately $1 per response.

The cheaper way is to simply add a none-of-the-above option to the end of your title list. I worded mine “None of the above: I don’t read urban fantasy.” This keeps costs down to 10 cents per response, which allowed me to poll 200 people for $20.

My survey was very eye-opening right from the beginning. I wasn’t surprised to find that 74% of people don’t read urban fantasy, but I was surprised to find that a larger percentage of the male respondents enjoy urban fantasy compared to the females.

I also found that urban-fantasy readers skew younger than I’d thought. I set up the survey to only ask people between the ages of 25 and 54 my questions, but the youngest demographic I included was also the most likely to read urban fantasy. That suggested that I should have polled 18 to 24 year olds as well, and that I should realize that my readers are probably younger than I am.

Okay, how about the actual results? I’d been leaning toward the title The Olmec Curse before running the survey because I felt the unfamiliar word would intrigue people who might enjoy the archaeological/mythological element. That may or may not be true…but The Olmec Curse also tied for last place. (This is why you shouldn’t let me choose your title without some extra data!)


Hunt for the Wind God’s Tomb had the best results, but I didn’t choose this title either. Why? Because my current readers are over 50% women due to a light but significant love story in each of my novels and a tendency to focus on touchy-feely emotions more than on external action. And, among women, the top title on my survey was Jaguar at the Portal. (Men liked this title too, but only half as much as they liked Hunt for the Wind God’s Tomb.)

To sum up: if you’re willing to sink a little bit of cash into the project, I highly recommend Google’s customer survey option. It would be worth $20 just to know the likely age and gender of urban fantasy readers, but getting feedback on titles is also a major boon. Although, if I had it to do over again, I might commit a bit more money to the project to ensure that I got at least 100 responses from readers of my genre.

Now, back to writing that climactic scene that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for the last month and a half! I hope the readers enjoy the ride as much as I’ve enjoyed writing what is my favorite book to date.

Benefits of a box set

Secret Worlds box set

I know I’ve been missing in action for the last few months, but I couldn’t resist dropping by to share my experiences with taking part in a box set with 20 other authors. First of all, if you haven’t heard of the Secret Worlds box set yet, you can check it out here. The set is an amazing deal, currently at 99 cents and containing 21 full-length novels from bestselling authors. I’ve been enjoying working my way through the offerings and have lots more fun reading ahead of me!

Okay, self promotion aside, it’s time to get back to the point. Why might you choose to take part in a box set as an author? Here were my reasons for joining in:

  • To get that coveted “USA bestselling author” tag at the end of my name. Our organizer was able to launch last year’s box set onto the USA bestsellers list, and we hope to do the same this year.
  • To learn new marketing techniques from other authors. It’s amazing how, when everyone pitches in, you get to learn from other authors’ strengths. For example, the teaser images some of our box set’s participants are churning out are unbelievable!
  • To add visibility to my other books. Thousands of copies of the box set sold should mean at least hundreds of new readers who want to read the next book in my series. (I hope!)

All of that said, I don’t recommend that small fry like me organize a box set. I can tell that our organizer is putting in three times as many hours as I am, and her experience is what will make Secret Worlds sink or swim. But I do think it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for box-set opportunities to participate in. Because learning new skills and increasing your visibility is one of the most important things an indie author can do. Well, that and write….

The power of Bookbub

Amazon bestsellers

Of all the book-advertising sites, Bookbub is king. But with great power comes…a pretty hefty pricetag and seriously restrictive submission requirements.

I applied three times before I was finally accepted, and I had to downgrade my wish list from a 99-cent listing to a free listing. I was a little concerned, actually, that I might have to explain to my  husband why I’d spent $175 giving away free books…but then Bookbub’s email went out yesterday afternoon and soothed my ragged nerves.

By 8 pm, I’d already broken even due to increased sales of the other novel and short story in the series, and I woke up this morning to find that my Bookbub-pushed title was number two free on all of Amazon! Book two in the series (aided by a countdown deal mentioned in the description of book one) had soared to #402 paid, and I had an author rank for the first time ever!

Author rank

The moral of the story? If you’ve been considering applying for Bookbub, but have been afraid of the big bucks involved…do it. Be sure to read their requirements carefully, though, and consider applying when your book will be free since free slots are easier to land than sale slots. The more books you have in the series, the more of a return you’ll see on your investment, and remember that Bookbub ads can now be seen in Canada and the UK as well as the U.S.

The only downside I’ve found with Bookbub so far is the constant urge to refresh my sales data. Makes it hard to write book three….

Books for the troops

Books for troopsMy husband spent a few years in the military right after high school, and he tells me that books were a very important part of his life at that time. Civilians take for granted the nearly limitless entertainment available on our smart phones, computers, and ereaders, but many American soldiers are stationed in parts of the world where they have very little access to even something as simple as reading matter. A good book can make all the difference.

Enter Authors Supporting Our Troops, a project spearheaded by Armand Rosamilia. Armand collects signed books from authors and publishers, packages them up in big boxes, and mails the texts out to soldiers in remote locations, who then spread the books around to their friends. All you have to do to be involved is to email and ask for his mailing address, sign your books, and ship them out. (Be sure to click the link above if you’d like a slightly less simple way to be involved, such as donating cash to cover postage costs or tracking down soldiers in need of books.)

We all want to support our troops and we all want our books to be read. So why not kill two birds with one stone and shell out a few bucks to feed paperbacks into the hands of our military units abroad?