Susan Berliner is the author of six supernatural thrillers ("DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," "After the Bubbles," "Soldier Girl"); three short story collections ("The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales," "George's Mother and Other Weird Stories," "Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories); and a memoir ("Doing the Write Thing"). This blog contains entries from January 3, 2022 - December 29, 2022.
Hopefully going viral - December 29, 2022
I joined a "TikTok for Authors" Facebook group to get some pointers on being successful on that platform. Although I enjoy posting videos, my Booktok videos rarely get more than 300 views and result in very few sales.
Since most successful Booktok authors write either erotic or romance novels, I was thrilled today to see a thriller author post that one of her video's went viral with 875,000 views. Her video was simple, effective (e.g. it produced sales), and best of all—it's something I can copy.
Here's what she did: The 30-second video (with soft, not trendy music) just shows the author's face, shaking her head sadly, and displays lots of text about her book. It's written in the first person: Police come to her house and take her to the morgue to identify her dead sister. However, the body isn't her sister—it's a stranger wearing her sister's clothes. But the police don't believe her so she has to find out who the woman is. The video ends with: "Guess what I discovered..."
Although the author never mentions the title of her book, the hashtags (#thriller, #booktok, etc.) clearly identify her as the author of this novel. Still, viewers are surprised she's talking about a book—and comment that they're now buying it to find out what happens.
I'm going to copy some of the elements this author used to see if I can get results with a first-person shocking-revelation video. I'll report back with my results. You can see my videos on TikTok or on Facebook or Twitter.
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Getting a web facelift - December 24, 2022
If you follow this blog, you know I've recently published a new book titled, Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories. As a result, I needed to update my website.
I can do most of the updating myself—except for the home page—so I contacted my website's production department, emailed what I needed them to do and, to my great surprise, they followed my instructions.
I'm very happy with the way the site looks, especially the new purplish-blue background on the home page. What do you think?
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Finally finished - December 19, 2022
Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories is done. I received the proof copy of the paperback today, just finished reading it, and found no errors. That means, as soon as Amazon okays the book, the paperback version will be available for purchase. (The book is already for sale as an ebook on Kindle and free on Kindle Unlimited.)
Now I need people to buy the book, read the book, love the stories—and hopefully, write glowing reviews. So if you're a woman, man, or teen who enjoys Twilight-Zone-like strange tales with twist endings, please consider reading Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories. I think you'll be glad you did.
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The missing link - December 14, 2022
After finally getting a corrected paperback cover for CRASH EFFECT and Other Weird Stories from the artist on Tuesday morning, I logged onto Amazon's KDP site to upload my materials for the print book.
This is the first time I've used Amazon for publishing a paperback (because Lightning Source has taken away my set-up discount) and I found the process remarkably simple. However, things are never as easy as they seem.
Before making my book available, I always ask for a proof to make sure there are no mistakes. Amazon's message said that within four hours I would receive a link to where I would pay for the proof copy. But I never received the link.
When I called Amazon, the rep told me she had transferred my case to the technical department and they would contact me within 24-48 hours.
So that's where I am now—waiting for Jayanth, Jahnavi (real names) or someone else from Amazon's Technical Team to email me, hopefully with my link so I can pay for the proof I ordered. Then I have to wait for the book to arrive in the mail and read it. As a result, CRASH EFFECT and Other Weird Stories won't be published as soon as I'd hoped.
Thankfully, the Kindle version is available. But I really wanted the paperback to be out there too.
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The book is (sort of) here - December 9, 2022
I'm exhausted. I gave up waiting for the finished paperback art for Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories and published the ebook Friday so at least one version would be available for the holiday season. At this point, even if the paperback was completed and someone ordered it, the print book probably wouldn't arrive until after Christmas.
So I've spent today promoting the short story collection on social media and advertising it on Amazon. I love the cover, but thus far, it hasn't generated much buzz (or sales). But at least it's out there.
Here's the ebook cover and the Kindle link.
Event evaluation - December 4, 2022
This weekend, I had my fourth and final book-signing event of the season. These events have all been YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS craft fairs in local church schools, which we've found to be the best places for signing our books. But this year was strange.
For some reason, the first two events (in late October and early November), both held in unseasonably warm weather, were better for us than the last two events (in mid November and early December).
Why? I'm not sure. I'd done very well in the third event the two years before the pandemic and this is the first time that event has been held since 2019. Another vendor said many people attended, but not many spent money.
I'd never participated in the most recent fair, which was also held for the first time since the pandemic. However, this event had a Scholastic Book Fair next door, which didn't help my sales or TYKES' (Linda Griffin's) sales—especially when families went there first. We saw many kids and parents toting Scholastic books.
YUKS (Larry Berliner) without competition from Scholastic, did better with his award-winning humorous memoir for adults, You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life. One teacher even bought five copies—one for each of her fourth-grade colleagues.
You can see photos of signings at this season's holiday fairs here.
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The final steps - November 29, 2022
CRASH EFFECT and Other Weird Stories is nearing the finish line. The front cover is done, which means the ebook is ready. The artist's now working on the print version as well as providing art for all the related materials I need: bookmarks, poster, social media images, etc.
Publishing a book is exciting and more fun than writing one. It's a lot like giving birth to a baby--and that's especially true of a paperback. I'm always thrilled to open the package containing the proof of my printed baby book (as long as there are no mistakes).
If all goes well with the paperback, I'm on track for an early to mid December launch.
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Almost done - November 24, 2022
Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories is nearly finished. The formatting for both the paperback and ebook is done and surprisingly, the cover is almost ready too.
I'm surprised about the cover because the last cover (for my memoir, Doing the Write Thing) took a very long time. I love the final result, but it took many revisions to get there.
Although I'm using the same company this time, the results are much better. Maybe it's because this book is fiction, maybe it's because I was clearer about what I wanted—or maybe this is a better artist. (I work with a coordinator and never communicate directly with the artist.)
Whatever the reason, the first cover attempt was nearly perfect: only the subtitle had to be made larger and the background brightened. Now I need one small element tweaked and the front cover will be done. That should happen next week.
I can't wait!
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Still not done - November 19, 2022
I thought the formatting of my new book, Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories, would be finished by now. But my last reread revealed more errors than I expected, including some that I made.
Here are my mistakes:
* "We don't even know if she'll want take over..."
I've read this sentence at least twenty times without noticing the missing "to."
* "She a quiet kid who's never done anything mean to me."
Like the first boo-boo, I never realized I hadn't written "She's."
* In the past, I've listed the names of all my book characters. But since a collection of short stories includes so many names, I didn't do that here. But I should have because I repeated a last name (Forrester), using it for a main character in one tale and a minor character in another. Ugh!
* This mistake was the most serious. I mention blood on a character's sock. But the blood is on the heel on one page and on the toe several pages later. That was careless editing.
Hopefully, I've now found every problem and the next formatted draft will be the last.
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What went wrong? - November 14, 2022
The previous two Saturdays (November 5 & November 12), I've had book-signing events. Both events were church fairs, each with an adjoining school, and each fair was held in the school's gym. I had participated in both holiday fairs in past years and had done well.
This year, however, was different. While I signed many books on November 5th, I signed very few on November 12th. Why? I don't know.
The weather on both Saturdays was unseasonably warm, not really ideal for winter holiday shopping. However, many people attended both events and lots of them purchased gifts.
And it wasn't just me. My fellow YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS authors, Linda Griffin and Larry Berliner, had the same results: We each sold at least twice as many books on November 5th than we did on November 12th.
My last holiday event is December 2nd at another church school venue—one I haven't been to. I'm hoping it will be a success.
You can see photos of all my events here.
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Proofing points - November 9, 2022
I'm currently in the middle of the most tedious part of publishing a book: reading the formatted pages of Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories over and over to make sure there are no errors.
It's tricky because once I identify a problem and the formatter fixes it, sometimes new issues develop. This happened from draft 2 to draft 3 when I wanted the title of an Internet article in my story "FRIEND-U" centered, but the formatter started a new story instead—messing up the ensuing pages.
That's why I have to carefully reread the book each time, hoping to find all the issues. It's like being a detective—looking for sneaky problems, some of which weren't even there originally.
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And the read goes on - November 4, 2022
I've proofed the first formatted draft of Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories. The good news: I found few typos and mistakes on both my end and the formatter's end. The bad news: There are still many things that need to be corrected. Yes, most of the errors are small—but they're still errors.
When an author writes a book, he or she doesn't want to see any mistakes. As a result, I'll list each of the problems and then wait for the formatter to make the corrections and send me a second draft of this short story collection.
And here's the best part: Each draft will have fewer mistakes and eventually, this book will be finished.
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Slow going - October 30, 2022
I just finished rereading and editing Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories again and, unfortunately, still found a number of things to correct or improve.
Here are some examples:
* I had the wrong color wine for a lobster lunch. It should be white, not red.
* I neglected to have a doctor examine a crash victim before sending him for x-rays.
* Similarly, I didn't have a character admire a baby relative he sees for the first time.
In addition, I improved language and made a bunch of small changes. It's discouraging because I thought this book was nearly done and now I'm not so sure. One thing I am sure about: I have to read the manuscript again.
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Understanding TikTok - October 25, 2022
I continue to be baffled by the workings of TikTok: How does the platform decide how many times a video should be shown?
For months, I've been consistently getting 200 - 300 BookTok views on all my novel or short story-themed videos. And the total is the same if the video features the book alone or me with the book. The two videos I made at a book-signing event in September also received the same 300 views.
However, this weekend, I posted a short clip of me signing a 13-year-old's copy of Peachwood Lake and, for some reason, that video has received just 50 views. Why so few? It has a good ratio of likes (8) so that's not the problem.
The only videos that have done well for me recently are two repeats that feature Word documents of the first page of one of my stories, with title changes and typewriter music. For some reason, those videos each received nearly 2,000 views. Why so many? Only TikTok knows.
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Subtle fixes - October 20, 2022
"Use the first draft to free your mind of the story, to get the shape of it along with its imperfections.
Use the 2nd draft to find those imperfections and shape them.
Use the 3rd draft to fix plot holes. And use the 4th draft to clean up a great story."
— Wrtr #amwriting
I read the above quote on Twitter today and it's right in line with what I'm doing now: editing my latest book, Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories. I'm up to the third draft and, yesterday and today, I fixed several subtle—and sneaky—plot holes. Here's a brief rundown:
* One of my protagonists was punched in the face and afterwards used an icepack. However, the next morning, there was no mention of the injury. I added a sentence to fix that oversight.
* Following a nighttime incident, another story suddenly switches to daylight. Again, I added a line of explanation.
* This was a boo-boo. When a protagonist does a lot of shopping, another character refers to a necklace bought at Macy's. However, the necklace wasn't purchased there. (You have to read the story to understand why.) Here, I simply changed the store reference to Walmart.
Now I'm up to the fourth draft: cleaning up my (hopefully) great stories.
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So far, so good - October 15, 2022
One of my key readers just finished Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories and found no major issues with the book. I also thought these tales were in good shape, but I'm hardly objective. It's always important for an author to get feedback from others.
So as I continue to read and edit these 12 stories, I'm excited that they seem close to ready for publication. Now it's up to me to make sure they are finished. I'm still aiming to publish Crash Effect and other Weird Stories in December—just in time for holiday reading.
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Still no luck - October 10, 2022
In my last post (October 5), I wrote about a clever new video that I intended to post on BookTok Sunday. I posted the video, but, unfortunately, this latest attempt was also unsuccessful.
Here's what I did: At a Fall Festival at my local mall, I "borrowed" half my daughter's Thryv business table for a book signing. The video, titled "Stealth Book Signing," shows me holding my pointer finger over my lips in a "shh" motion, carrying a copy of DUST, tip-toeing to the right side of the table, and displaying the novel. A line of text reads, "Taking over my daughter's booth." At the end, I give a thumbs-up signal. The video uses "Mission Impossible" music and takes 7 seconds.
However, TikTok doesn't like any videos that show my books, and as with all the others, this video has under 300 views and not many likes. Back to the drawing board...
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Still trying... - October 5, 2022
Like many authors, I haven't figured out the secret to success on BookTok. I keep posting videos and only get a substantial number of views (over 1,000) on videos not directly related to my books. That's a problem since I'm only on TikTok to promote my books.
Here's an example: I recently posted two clever (at least I thought they were clever) videos, one for The Touchers Series (After the Bubbles & Soldier Girl) and another for Georges Mother and Other Weird Stories. Each video got under 300 views. In between I posted a repeat video of a computer screen showing a change of my short story title—and that video was shown 1500 times.
But I have a completely different type of video planned for Sunday. Maybe this one will be successful. Stay tuned...
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Putting it together - September 30, 2022
I've arranged my twelve short stories into an order I like, creating a book that will be titled Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories.
I've been reviewing the endings of these stories, trying to tighten some of them. Unlike many of my previous tales, a few of these stories end rather quietly. I'd like to add more pizzazz.
Although I've also started writing the blurb and introduction, my next step will be rereading and editing the stories in book form. My formatter is available in about a month, making a December launch possible.
Wish me luck!
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A new tactic - September 25, 2022
If you read this blog, you know I'm trying to find the "secret" of creating a BookTok video that goes viral. Since some authors say trending songs can generate views, when I read a story on my phone yesterday about a new song—not yet released—that was being used all over TikTok, I decided to act.
I quickly made a video of the cover of The Disappearance, added a quote ("Ryan set me up to make it look like I killed him. Now he's disappeared."), and inserted the hot music ("Unholy" by Kim Petras and Sam Smith).
Did this tactic work? Unfortunately, no. The video only has about 250 viewers and few likes.
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A puzzlement - September 20, 2022
No one can figure out TikTok. The algorithms are impossible. As one expert told me, making a successful TikTok video is like throwing gum against a wall and waiting to see which piece sticks.
Many booktokers have success with page-turning videos of their books. Unfortunately, not me. My most-shown videos involve comparing books (not mine) or changing words or titles of my stories. However, those types of videos don't promote my novels or short stories. So I'm still trying to achieve success.
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Tell me some stories - September 15, 2022
I've finished the first draft of "Identify Thief" (still a drama, not a comedy - see post below), giving me twelve stories for my next collection. Although none of the tales is very long, in my opinion, twelve is enough.
Now the hard work—getting these stories ready for publication—begins. That means editing and organizing the tales, having the manuscript formatted, and collaborating with a cover designer. I had hoped to publish this collection (tentative title is Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories) by November, but that won't be possible. If I can have it ready sometime in December, I'll be thrilled.
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Changing direction - September 10, 2022
I thought my short story, "Identity Thief," would be a drama about a young woman who finds another person's wallet and keeps it. However, after writing about 2,000 words, I'm changing direction.
What I've written thus far is repetitive, with very little drama. I was going to make the ending weird, but that won't solve the problem. As a result, I've decided to rewrite the story to make it lighthearted and funny, which means adding more weirdness throughout. One problem though: I'm not sure exactly what to do—and how to do it.
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Event evaluation - September 5, 2022
The Hudson River Arts & Crafts Festival in Croton, NY on Saturday was as lovely as I had hoped. Vendors were arranged in a semicircle in front of the water and the weather was sunny and calm—just a bit too hot.
Although we had lots of traffic, I didn't sell many books. Few families with kids or teens attended and the crowd was older, many of them grandparents looking for gifts for their grandkids. Next year I'm going to hang a sign that reads: "Great gifts for teens!" Maybe that will spur my book sales.
I did make two TikToks: a video of my table with the gorgeous view of the Hudson River and boats in the background and a video of me signing a copy of Peachwood Lake for a couple who witnessed a carp jump into their boat in Florida. (I used "Saturday in the Park" music by Chicago for both TikToks.) Thus far, however, each video has garnered only about 250 views.
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Event planning - August 31, 2022
This Saturday I'll be signing my books at the Hudson River Arts & Crafts Festival in Senasqua Park in Croton, NY. The event sounds wonderful and the weather forecast is good, so on September 3 from noon till 4 pm, I expect to be standing near the Hudson River with YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS fellow authors—Linda Griffin and Larry Berliner.
Because this is my first event since joining TikTok, I want to record some videos for my nearly 2,400 followers. I'm not ready to do a live session, but I'd like to film and post snippets of the book signing—hopefully including footage of readers purchasing books.
Stay tuned for the results...
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Truth is stranger than fiction - August 26, 2022
My second novel, Peachwood Lake, is about a monster prehistoric fish with razor-sharp teeth that terrorizes swimmers and boaters. Near the end of the novel, after officials fail to capture the fish, they decide to drain the lake to destroy the fish.
This week I read an online story from The Washington Post with the following headline: "'Monster' fish eludes capture as Chinese city drains lake, millions watch."
A 28"-long alligator gar, described as a torpedo-shaped freshwater fish with razor-sharp teeth, whose origin goes back 100 million years, was discovered in the central city of Ruzhou. Like in my novel, authorities spent weeks searching for the fish with no luck. Since they feared the gar would attack humans, they drained Lake Yunchan.
China live-streamed the draining and 37 million people watched the event, hoping for a glimpse of the monster fish. Officials continued live-streaming the lake over the next two days (this past Wednesday and Thursday), but there was still no sign of the fish.
Sounds like a good subject for a book.
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Transportation situation - August 21, 2022
As I posted on August 16, I'm writing a short story called "Identity Thief." Although I've completed several scenes, I didn't like the way my main character is traveling: in a cab, rather than in a car.
Since she's homeless, the woman doesn't have a car. But last night, I had an idea: I'm going to redo the scenes so someone drives her to the places she needs to go. In doing so, this driver, originally a secondary character, will became more integral to the story. Fingers crossed that this approach works.
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I (finally) get ideas - August 16, 2022
In my last post, I complained about not having had new ideas for short stories. However, later that same night, I finally got an inspiration for another weird tale.
The working title of this story is "Identity Thief" and it's about a homeless woman who finds another person's wallet. I've started writing the tale, which I hope will be good. If so, I'll have twelve stories for my next collection, which, in my mind, is a better number than eleven.
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What's enough? - August 11, 2022
I've written eleven new short stories. But is that enough for a new collection? My previous two volumes of stories (The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales and George's Mother and Other Weird Stories) contain either a larger number of stories or longer tales.
However, since I haven't had any brilliant story ideas for several weeks, I may concentrate on preparing these eleven tales for publication. They're a mixture of thriller, horror, and fantasy, including time travel and humor. And like my other stories, all of them are weird.
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Thinking small - August 6, 2022
When I have creative thoughts, they're usually about novels or short stories that I'm either writing or editing. But I'm in the midst of a freelance project for second and third graders that requires creative writing ideas. So now I'm thinking of stories, albeit simpler ones for young kids.
However, as I've mentioned many times: writing is writing, whether it's for adults, teens, or elementary school students. I just want to write—and I'm not snobbish about who that writing is for.
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A new approach - August 1, 2022
If you follow these posts, you know I get some BookTok ideas from Facebook's TikTok for Authors group. Today's video was influenced by a British thriller writer whose videos consist of her holding up paper signs about her books.
One of this woman's recent videos went viral, garnering nearly a million views. The video begins with a sign saying, "My husband is gay..." followed by five more signs and ending with the blonde 40ish woman displaying a copy of her novel.
But TikTok viewers have very short attention spans (about 6 seconds) and turning sheets of paper takes time so most people didn't watch the author's entire video. As a result, most of the 6,000 comments she received were from folks sympathizing with her marital situation. Since we are supposed to answer each comment, the woman spent many hours writing things like, "It's not me. I'm just promoting my book."
Nevertheless, I decided to try her approach and created four signs for my thriller, The Disappearance. Although I can't pretend to be a 19-year-old, I used a first-person approach. My signs read: (1) I was arrested...(2) for killing my boyfriend. (3) But I know he's alive and... (4) I will find him. I ended the 12-second video by displaying a copy of The Disappearance.
The bad news: My video hasn't gone viral.
The good news: No one's sympathized with me about my arrest.
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Try, try again - July 27, 2022
I keep posting TikTok videos. But, unfortunately, nothing I post seems to do well. Although I'm not alone—many authors have similar issues—I'd still like to enjoy some success.
My latest attempt was another turning-pages video with this text: "How does a sea crystal upend two couples' vacations—and their lives?"
The video, backed by creepy music, ends with the front cover of my short story collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales.
Since other authors recommend short videos, this one is just 6 seconds long. Since authors also recommend adding just a few specific hashtags, I used only 4. Nevertheless, this video has been a disaster, with fewer views and fewer likes than any of my others.
I think the successful turning-pages videos are best-selling books posted by readers, not authors. And I'm starting to believe erotic and/or romance novels do much better on BookTok than supernatural thrillers.
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It's almost impossible - July 22, 2022
The more I learn about BookTok, the more confused I get. When I check posts on Facebook's TikTok authors group, one person claims success with using no hashtags, while another recommends using just a few. One author says your videos should promote your books one-third of the time, while another recommends promoting your work all the time.
The bottom line is that no one understands how TikTok works, especially why some videos get thousands of views and others get practically none. However, most agree that an author should post a video every day—but who has time for that? For me, planning a video takes time and so does filming it. If I'm constantly making videos, when do I have time to write?
I do know that some authors do well with this platform, but unfortunately, I'm not one of them. Nevertheless, I do enjoy making the videos and I like the challenge of figuring out how to succeed. Thus far, however, I don't like the results.
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Just write - July 17, 2022
I'm always writing something: a story, a novel, a BookTok video, or a reading comprehension passage for ELL students in Texas. And I've just starting another freelance educational project: creating writing prompts for Texas students in grades 2-5. These are story starters—short, creative bits to help kids put words on paper (or on computer screens).
If you're a writer, you have to write. I do crossword puzzles, Wordle, Jumbles, and all types of fun word games. To me, it doesn't matter what I'm writing, as long as I write.
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Still figuring it out - July 12, 2022
I haven't figured out TikTok—or at least how to use it to my advantage. Several of my videos have more than 1,000 views (and one has 4,000), but none of the most-shown videos have anything to do with my books. The most successful are the videos where I ask, "Which book would you read?" or where I change the title of an unpublished short story.
Every time I do a video than relates directly to one of my published novels (or most recently, my short stories), I get very few views and even fewer likes. And turning pages, which is supposed to be an "in" video for BookTok, is very out for me.
Last week, I reposted a video for the first time and that didn't go well either. How can I be a TikTok star (or even sell a few books) if so few people see (or like) my videos?
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Covid composition - July 7, 2022
I had Covid this week, a rather mild case, but it still knocked me out and I had little energy to do very much. But for some reason my brain wasn't foggy so I was able to write.
That was my sole accomplishment this week: I completed a 2,500-word short story, titled "Crash Effect." Today I edited the story and made few changes. I think the time travel story's pretty good and I'm just happy I was able to do something productive.
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Out of order - July 2, 2022
I woke up early this morning (5 am) and couldn't go back to sleep. That's when my muse appeared to describe an important scene in "Crash Effect," the short story I'm currently writing.
There's just one problem with this situation: I'm not yet up to that scene. In fact, I need to write several scenes before I reach the muse-inspired one.
But since I didn't want to lose the muse's magic, when I woke up I scribbled down the scene—which I think came out pretty good. Although I don't like writing out of order, I'll insert the muse's scene into the story after I fill in the missing parts.
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The neverending quest - June 27, 2022
As I continue my neverending quest of trying to figure out how TikTok works, this week's video includes a combination of me, a close-up of one of my novels (Peachwood Lake), and a background of Jaws music.
The text for the video is simple: "Would you go into the water with this fish?" I ask. Then, holding up a copy of Peachwood Lake's cover, I say, "Some folks did—and they didn't come out."
According to several BookTok authors on Facebook, the above combination should be good for lots of views. One poster also suggested not adding hashtags, which I was going to do until several authors reported poor results with that tactic. But everybody does agree on one thing: It's impossible to figure out TikTok's algorithms.
Last week's video did well with 1500 views. Hopefully, today's will do even better (and maybe sell a few books).
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It's all writing - June 22, 2022
I write novels, I write short stories, and I also write test passages. What do they have in common? They're all forms of writing.
As long as I write (and finish what I start to write), I feel I'm accomplishing something. And it doesn't matter if what I write is a short paragraph or a lengthy tome.
I just finished a freelance writing project, creating short—very easy— passages for standardized tests for ELL students in Texas. This summer, I have another freelance assignment for the same company, creating story starters and story frames for these Texas tests. It's challenging, it's creative—and it's writing.
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What's the question? - June 17, 2022
In my never-ending quest to figure out how to get the most out of TikTok, I've been listening to Facebook discussions. One author claims that asking questions is the best way to generate interest. That makes sense because my top video (3,900 views) asked a question ("Which novel would you choose to read?"). And I did get lots of likes and comments.
Another suggestion by a fellow BookTok author was that TikTok viewers like to see people, which means I should be in the video. And I did appear in my most successful video. So maybe I got so many views because I accidentally got it right.
I'm going to make a similar video next week to see if I can get it right again. Wish me luck.
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Solving TikTok - June 12, 2022
I'm still trying to figure out TikTok—especially why some of my videos do well and others do poorly. Most of my BookTok videos have received between 300 and 700 views. But three recent videos have been shown 2,600, 2,800, and 3,900 times.
Why do some videos do better than others? That question appeared on a recent Facebook group for BookTok authors—and no one had an answer. One author had over 10,000 views for a video—and 200 views for most of his others.
Obviously, TikTok uses some complex algorithm that none of us non-mathematicians can decipher. So the best advice is twofold: repeat videos that work and experiment with new ideas. I post a new video each week and I'll keep plugging
* * *
Tightening the story - June 7, 2022
In the last post (June 2), I wrote about my editing issues with two short stories. Then, in the middle of that night, the muse showed up and I figured out how to improve one of them. As a result, the next morning I revised my supernatural murder mystery, "Soul Mates."
The problem with "Soul Mates" was too many policemen—three. One policeman appears after a murder, another visits a main character, and a third is crucial to the ending. However, I realized the story would be tighter and more effective if one policeman performed all three tasks.
That meant rewriting several scenes so the story still made sense and wasn't repetitive. I added extra dialogue in one place and revised details in other scenes. The result is a tighter and much improved version of "Soul Mates."
* * *
Editing woes - June 2, 2022
In addition to working on my freelance writing project this week, I've been editing my short stories. I've tackled two thus far and neither is as finished as I'd hoped.
The issue with "Friend-U" is this: How much information do I want to divulge about the workings of the title character, a little Alexa-like device? I felt that I provided too much information so I redid the story revealing less. But now I have to make sure I'm revealing enough.
"Soul Mates," the second story I reread, is in good shape. But after this reread, I got an idea for the ending. It would mean inserting a minor character into a small, but key, role. However, I'm not sure how to do it.
It's amazing how much these stories can be improved. Still, I'm hoping to publish this new collection later this year, providing I can finish each of them.
* * *
A friend is a friend... - May 28, 2022
I've been working on a story about an Alexa-like device for several years, but after three unsuccessful tries, I put the story aside. Then about a year ago, I finally wrote a version that I liked.
I titled the story "FRIENDr," and when I originally googled the name, it hadn't been used. However, when I started reediting my story a few days ago, I googled FRIENDr again and it's now the name of a new software app.
Since I need to use the word "friend," my new title is "Friend-U." So unless that name becomes another company's new app, the title is set--I hope.
* * *
Back to the drawing board - May 23, 2022
After months of trying different approaches, I thought I'd finally figured out how to get lots of views on BookTok. Each of my last three videos has been shown nearly 3,000 times—a ten-fold increase from the earlier posts. And these three videos involved simple stuff: changing a story title and comparing paragraphs in books.
As a result, today I made a similar video: changing a sentence in one of my stories into dialogue. The text reads, "Let your characters speak for themselves. Don't describe—Use dialogue."
Then I waited for all the views. But so far, that hasn't happened. As I write, I have just 280 views, not 2,800. But I'm stubborn so I'll keep trying.
* * *
Words work - May 18, 2022
TikTok values videos of words more than videos of people. That's the only way I can explain my most recent BookTok videos getting so many views and likes.
My last three videos—two featuring a Word document title change and one comparing pages of two books—boast more than 2,000 views each and hundreds of likes. My other 13 videos—me offering writing advice, goofy dramatizations of my novels, and book raps—have between 300-1000 views and far fewer likes.
So what will I do? Since I want viewers, I'll concentrate more on simple videos, focusing on books and words rather than on people. Give 'em what they want...
* * *
The end? - May 13, 2022
I finished the first draft of "Sight Unseen," my short story told in the first person by a somewhat obnoxious girl in sleepaway camp. That feat surprised me because I had no idea the tale was ending. I only realized the girl's story was over after I wrote the last scene.
When I reread "Sight Unseen" this morning, I made some slight changes. Now I just have to flesh out the characters and add details. But I'm satisfied with the resolution, which I didn't see coming. At the conclusion, the main character's actions make her more likable—and that's a good thing.
* * *
Repeat success? - May 8, 2022
In my May 3 post, I wrote about last week's BookTok video, my most successful. The text in that short and simple video (just a computer screen with the first page of the short story I'm writing) reads: "When the title of your story gives away too much—Change it!" In the video, the title "VANISHING ACT" is erased and replaced with "NOW YOU SEE IT..."
Several TikTok viewers felt the new title was as much of a giveaway as the first one. Although I think the second title is subtler (you have to first complete the phrase to get the meaning), I've come up with a third title.
So here's what I'm doing in my next video. The text will read: "When the title of your story STILL gives away too much—Change it again!" In this video, the title "NOW YOU SEE IT..." will be erased and replaced with "SIGHT UNSEEN."
* * *
Strange success - May 3, 2022
I tried a different type of BookTok video on Monday and, for some reason, it's already been shown over 2,000 times—nearly twice the number of times as my most "popular" video.
What's different? This video is short (9 seconds) and simple. It features no people, just a laptop Word screen with the first page of the short story I'm writing and "computer keyboard" music (e.g. clattering noises).
The text (in red) is simple: "When the title of your story gives away too much—Change it!" In the video, the title "VANISHING ACT" is erased and rewritten as "NOW YOU SEE IT..."
* * *
Multitasking again - April 29, 2022
I'm doing a lot of writing these days, but it's not all book-related. However, I am working on a new short story for my next collection, a first-person light-hearted tale, now called "Vanishing Act." (That title's too much of a giveaway so I'll probably change it when I think of a better one.)
Secondly, I'm writing the text for my next BookTok video. Yes, even a 15-second film needs a script, which I will try—and fail—to memorize. This video is a different type of writing tip. Hopefully, it will get lots of views and likes.
Finally, I'm finishing the first phase of my freelance writing project, which involves writing test passages and reading comprehension questions for 4th and 5th grade Texas ELL students.
All these projects have one thing in common: writing—and that's a very good thing.
* * *
The trouble with BookTok... - April 23, 2022
After several months on BookTok, I think I've figured out my problem with this platform: Teens are copycats—and these young readers generally make two kinds of videos: They either show off their filled bookshelves or display/discuss their book hauls.
What do these videos have in common? They focus on paperbacks, which most of the teens buy in bookstores. But since I'm an indy author, my paperbacks aren't sold in brick-and-mortar stores. They're only available online. And I sell more ebooks than paperbacks.
I realized this problem today when, for the first time, I saw a TikTok video of a teen reading an ebook. Too bad it's tough to showcase shelves of ebooks.
* * *
What is dialogue? - April 18, 2022
Today I posted another BookTok writing tip video (#7). As I've mentioned, these types of videos work best for me—and I'm most comfortable sitting in front of my bookcase and talking about writing.
Nevertheless, memorizing a 15-second clip is tough to do. I can't imagine making longer videos (a minute and more) since it takes me numerous tries to get through a short speech cleanly.
Here's the text of today's video:
What is dialogue?
"Dialogue is NOT conversation. Real conversation is full of repeated words and mumbling sounds like 'duh' and 'ehh.' Dialogue is the words your characters say to propel the action forward."
Sounds easy, huh? Just try it.
* * *
BookTok talk - April 13, 2022
I now have ten videos on TikTok, all book-related: six writing tips, three goofy takes on my novels, and two book raps. But I still don't understand why some of my videos have more views and likes than others.
Of my writing tips, #1 and #2 have many more views than the later ones despite the fact that they're all the same length and quite similar. The silly novel-inspired videos all have close to the same number of views and likes, but not as many as the top writing tips. With the rap tunes, the first—a general video about my books and genres—has many more views and likes than my recent Corsonia video.
* * *
Writers write - April 8, 2022
After several edits, "The Interview" is much improved and nearly finished. However, although the short story still needs more character development, I'm letting it sit before tackling it again.
Meanwhile, I'm switching gears and working on my freelance writing project. These are short stories too—only they are for ELL fourth and fifth graders: really short with simple plots (no clever twists) and limited vocabulary.
However, as I always say: Writing is writing. And that's what I'm doing.
* * *
Re-rapping - April 3, 2022
I'm still trying to figure out BookTok. When I began a few months ago, I garnered lots of followers. Yes, they were mostly men looking for women (see February 17 post), but at least it made it seem like lots of people were interested in my videos.
However, that initial burst of followers has diminished greatly (male stalkers included) so now, in order to get new followers, I have to follow people (mostly teen girl readers) and hope they follow me back.
Figuring out which videos work best has also been difficult. I thought my writing tips would do well and most of them have gotten a fair amount of views and likes. But for some reason, last week's (Writing Tip #5) did poorly.
So on Monday, I'm trying another approach: my second "book rapping" video, focusing on the mind-control novel, Corsonia. Fingers crossed that it'll be a winner.
* * *
Changing direction - March 29, 2022
I finally finished the first draft of my short story, "The Interview." Of course this tale isn't really "finished." But at least the framework of the story is done.
Now I've got some plot issues to fix and, although I think the ending makes sense, it's a bit flat. I also have to flesh out my characters and add more description.
For the next few days, however, I'm going to let this story sit while I change gears and work on my freelance writing project. The deadline for story ideas for Grades 4-5 is this Friday.
* * *
TikTok timing - March 24, 2022
There are four time lengths for TikTok videos: 15 seconds, 60 seconds, 3 minutes, and now 10 minutes. However, the course I took (BookTok for Authors) recommended using the shortest length.
When I began recording videos, that time frame seemed too short—but it's not. I need many takes to create a good 15-second video. For a 60-second version, I'd need cue cards—and forget about the longer lengths.
And there's another reason I'm sticking to the 15-second time: short attention spans. When one teen watched my video, her comment was, "It's so long." Enough said.
* * *
Written work - March 19, 2022
That's one of my favorite sayings. But a writer doesn't have to produce a book or a short story. There are many different types of writing.
Yes, I'm still writing "The Interview," a short story. And when I finish, I'll return to writing my post-Covid dystopian novel, The Resolve. Currently, however, I'm beginning a freelance project: writing simple stories and questions for elementary and middle school standardized tests for Texas ELL students.
As long as I'm writing, it's all good.
* * *
My weird world - March 14, 2022
After writing more than 4,000 words of my short story titled "The Interview," I'm entering the Twilight Zone phase. That's the situation with many of my stories: They start with normal premises and then veer off into supernatural territory.
That's what's happening with this innocent-seeming tale about a young reporter interviewing a reclusive elderly billionaire. The protagonist has just realized what's going on and is trying to rectify the situation. How does the tale end? I don't know yet, but I should find the answer when I write the story's conclusion.
* * *
Fading followers - March 9, 2022
On Monday, I filmed and posted my third TikTok writing tip ("Rules for Writing") and, as predicted (see March 4), it's doing better than my two goofy fun videos.
Unfortunately, however, none of my videos have gone viral. While I gained 1,000 followers rather quickly, the pace has slowed considerably and I now have nearly 1,150 followers—and that's with a lot of effort: I follow BookTok teens hoping they will then reciprocate and follow me.
Has my approach worked? To some extent. But I'm starting to miss my multitudes of earlier followers: all those men looking for women. At least that gave the appearance that I was a really popular Booktok author.
In addition to TikTok, you can view (and like) my videos on Facebook or on Twitter (@berliner_susan). And, of course, if you're on BookTok, please follow me @susanberlinerbooks.
* * *
Teen trends - March 4, 2022
If you follow this blog, you know I've joined TikTok to reach the large teen audience that dominates BookTok. How am I doing? Not too well.
I've experimented with several types of 15-second videos: a rap tune about my books, two writing tips, and two goofy fun videos (one for The Touchers series—After the Bubbles & Soldier Girl—and another for Peachwood Lake).
The rap tune did okay, the writing tips produced lots of followers—mostly men looking for women, some authors, and a few teens—and the silly videos resulted in barely any followers.
That tells me the BookTok crowd is seriously interested in reading and doesn't want comedic videos. As a result, I'm going to film more writing tips. Besides garnering more followers and likes, they're easier to produce. But I still love those goofy videos.
* * *
Characters in charge - February 27, 2022
I don't outline my stories and novels. Instead, I sit down at the computer to write and let my characters take over the action.
That's what happened this weekend. I started writing the interview episode in the story of the same name ("The Interview") thinking the scene would unfold one way, only to discover my character had an entirely different plan.
That's interesting, I thought after rereading the scene. And the character's version probably makes more sense. I'm looking forward to finding out what these fictional people will decide to do next.
* * *
Teen leader - February 22, 2022
I can make simple TikTok videos, those that just involve me sitting in front of a bookcase talking about writing. But I can't create more complex videos, even after spending all Sunday watching instructions on YouTube.
However, it took my 15-year-old grandson less than a minute to figure out what to do—and he doesn't even use TikTok. I quickly promoted him to Producer/Director and demoted myself to Screenwriter/Music Selector.
With the teen in charge, we made 3 book-themed (and fun) TikTok videos. I posted the Touchers series video (After the Bubbles & Soldier Girl) and will post videos for Peachwood Lake and The Disappearance in the coming weeks. You can view the videos on TikTok (@susanberlinerbooks), on Facebook, or on Twitter (@berliner_susan).
* * *
It's a man's world - February 17, 2022
I don't like having things in common with male lechers. But I do. We're both on TikTok prowling for females. Of course I'm searching for teen BookTok readers and these men are looking for women and/or teen girls.
I'm attracting all types of male followers—young and old, many posing as soldiers or doctors. Some are shirtless or flexing their muscles. Others admit they're looking for romance. None of these men mention a love of books. I wonder if some of them even know how to read. (Their brief bios often contain misspellings.)
Hopefully, in time I'll attract more teen girl followers. But right now, for me, TikTok is a man's world.
* * *
Igniting the muse - February 12, 2022
During the pandemic, I've been taking a three-quarter mile walk nearly every day, weather permitting. Besides being good exercise, those uninterrupted 20 minutes of silence help me clarify my writing ideas.
I'd thought of a short story about a young woman interviewing a reclusive elderly billionaire. Although I loved the premise, I couldn't think of a viable plot for those two characters. Then last week, during one of my walks, I figured it all out. And now I've started writing the story, tentatively titled "The Interview."
Thank goodness for those quiet walks.
* * *
More TikTok - February 7, 2022
I just posted my second TikTok video. (Technically, it's my third because Larry accidentally posted a 2-second outtake in which he mutters "temperamental artist" and I smile.)
This 15-second video is the first of a series of writing tips, titled: "So you want to be a writer." The text reads: "Many people start writing books, but few finish. People tell me, 'I wrote Chapter One.' What about Chapters 2,3, 20? To really be a writer, you need to finish what you start."
You can watch it on TikTok @susanberlinerbooks. It's also posted on my Facebook page.
I'm getting Followers and Likes at a good rate. However, most of these people are either fellow authors, non-English speakers, or men looking for women. Very few are the BookTok teen readers I'm trying to reach. But on the positive side, producing the videos is proving to be lots of fun.
* * *
TikTok feat - February 2, 2022
I did it! I posted my first TikTok video, a quick overview of my writing, which I call "Book Rap." (You can find it @susanberlinerbooks)
Although the entire video lasts just 15 seconds, it took me many tries to accomplish this minor feat. Either I messed up the words, recited the lines too slowly (cutting off the ending) or, for some unknown reason, the video didn't record.
And this TikTok was "easy"—no editing or music—just a simple little rap rhyme. I'm supposed to be able to record a few seconds at a time, record again, and then add the frames together. But I couldn't master that tactic, even after taking a 5-part TikTok course for authors and watching a bunch of YouTube videos.
My next TikTok video will be on the writing process. Stay tuned...
* * *
Ad addition (and subtraction) - January 28, 2022
I've been too complacent with my Amazon advertising. Each month I simply renew my ads without evaluating them. That's not good, especially since the ads aren't performing particularly well.
This month, however, I decided to analyze the ads before renewing them and discovered that about 20 ads were being shown to very few readers. I am ending those ads.
At the same time I realized I could run new ads, mostly for Kindle readers, an option that hadn't been available until recently. As a result, I created 14 new ads for some of my books.
But Amazon is a weird platform: Lots of ads never even start to run, for reasons only Amazon knows. This is especially true for category ads, which are what I created and, at this point, only two of my new ads are being shown. Now I hope I didn't waste time creating all those ads for nothing.
* * *
BookTok talk - January 23, 2022
I'm still learning about BookTok, the book division of TikTok. According to a young woman familiar with the app, BookTok viewers are most interested in seeing videos about the process of writing.
Okay, I can do that. I've spoken in meetings and given interviews about how I write my books. I've also blogged about the writing process here on numerous occasions.
So now I have three different types of TikToks that I want to make. But I still need to become more familiar with how to record them.
Although teens make these videos effortlessly, for me, it's much more of a challenge. But I will succeed...I hope!
* * *
Research and writing - January 18, 2022
Writing a book is a lot of work, but some writers love doing research. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. Although I love writing books, I avoid checking information I need as long as possible.
Currently, I'm writing the first draft of my dystopian novel, The Resolve. Much of the book involves a cross-country trek to Utah, a state I've only visited once, many years ago. As a result, I have to research much of Utah's roads and towns.
But not yet. Writers love to procrastinate, which is exactly what I'm doing. Now, as I write my first draft, I simply insert a blank line for each bit of missing information. I'll fill in the blanks later when I really have to do the necessary research.
* * *
TikTok and me - January 13, 2022
I always thought TikTok was an app for teens and 20-somethings, not for me. And I was right. I have no desire to watch an endless array of singing and dancing videos.
However, there's one aspect of TikTok that is for me. It's called BookTok, boasting over 34 billion views—many by teen girls—and is so popular that Barnes & Noble stores now contain tables of BookTok bestsellers.
Clever authors are making videos to reach these young readers. Some of the posts are informative, others are silly, and still others are titillating, like the young author "writing" in her bra. And now, without posing in my undies, I hope to join them on BookTok.
Why? Because although my novels and short stories are for people of all ages, most of my protagonists are teenage girls, making my fiction a perfect fit for BookTok readers. Now all I have to do is create the videos.
I have what I think is a good tactic—and my marketing-savvy daughter has come up with an even better idea. So once I master the technical stuff, BookTok, here I come!
* * *
Books vs. egg creams - January 8, 2022
I recently had a Facebook post almost go viral. Unfortunately, the post had nothing to do with my books.
"Who remembers drinking egg creams at the local candy store?" I asked members of "Back in The Bronx," a Facebook group devoted to nostalgia for my childhood home. (An egg cream is a delicious drink made of milk, seltzer, and chocolate syrup. It contains no egg or cream.)
Within 30 minutes, I got so many responses that commenting was automatically turned off. The post received nearly 800 likes and 90 shares. In comparison, my most popular book posts rarely even get 100 likes.
I wish I could translate all that enthusiasm into book likes—or, if not, at least enjoy an egg cream. I've tried, but today's egg creams don't taste the way they did back in the Bronx.
* * *
Writing resolutions - January 3, 2022
Every January, I blog about my writing resolutions for the New Year. Here are my literary plans for 2022:
1. I again resolve to finish the first draft of The Resolve, my post-Covid dystopian thriller. (This resolution is a repeat from last year's list). I've now written nearly 30,000 words and started writing Part 2. I also finally have an idea about how I will resolve The Resolve.
2. I resolve to write more weird tales and publish another collection. I've written nine supernatural short stories since publishing George's Mother and Other Weird Stories. I still need to write three to five more.
3. I again resolve to work on my children's picture book (a repeat from the 2020 resolutions). When I first started writing supernatural thrillers, I had a dream about a flying car. Although I wrote a few drafts of the story, I haven't done anything else with it. Perhaps I'll finish writing that book in 2022.
Happy New Year! Stay safe—and happy writing!