Formatting Tricks (2/?): Linking With Redirects

If all goes well, this will be part one of however-many-it-takes posts on tricks for easy ebook formatting. These are not the be-all or end-all, but they’re the various methods I’ve developed to format books.  I’ll be doing explanations of each part as I have time, and once I’ve explained all the tricks, I’ll pull them together into a cohesive step-by-step guide.  These posts all assume a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

I know I said I was going to talk about Sigil next, but I’m taking a brief step sideways into something I take care of before I put my books together. This particular strategy has been a work in progress for several months, starting when I first heard Carolyn Jewel bring up the idea of using redirects to keep the links in the back of your ebooks from “going bad.”

Say for example the rights to some of your books are due to revert. If you link to the retailer listing of the publisher version and then republish it on your own later, every book you’ve sold so far will have a dead link in it.  Naturally, you can publish a new version with the updated links, but since 1984-gate, Amazon has been a lot less likely to push new updates to people’s accounts.  (And I have had similar trouble getting updated versions of books on Nook.)

Or maybe you know that the next three books in your series are going to be Awesome Book, Great Book and Amazing Book. You don’t have retailer links to these books yet, but you want to put them in the back of this book anyway, so people will know what’s coming. You can point those links to a temporary page, but you’ll still have to update those links at a later date.

And speaking of retailer links, there are some great arguments in favor of vendor-specific links. In the back of our Beyond books, I have customized links depending on the vendor. I do a different version for Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google and a general version that links to our website.  And in the beginning, that was a fair bit of work.  I had tricks to make it easier, but they weren’t tricks I could easily explain to someone without a degree in computer science, and easier still wasn’t easy.

I solved all three of these problems with redirects.

BASIC IDEA BEHIND REDIRECTS

There are several ways to do redirects. If you already know what a redirect is and how to create them, you probably don’t need the rest of this post. You’re already thinking of possibilities. (Though skip down to my naming scheme trick to see how I create my versions for different vendors.) For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on one option: a redirection plugin in WordPress.

(Credit to Vivian Arend for finding Redirection and bringing it to my attention. That is the one I currently use. However, there are many, many redirect plugins and since things can change as plugins are abandoned, please do your own due diligence and make sure you find one that works for you.)

A redirect link is like a forwarding address. If you click on http://krocha.link/beyond-shame-amazon, you’ll end up on the Amazon page for Beyond Shame. That’s because krocha.link is a site I use just to manage my own redirects, kind of like my own personal bit.ly. (It cost me $15 to register the domain, wordpress & the redirection plugin were free.  However, if your website is on wordpress, you can most likely install the plugin to your own site without the additional hassle.)

The reason this is useful is because I can use http://krocha.link/beyond-shame-amazon as the link in the back of my books whenever I want to link to the Amazon page for Beyond Shame, but the “forwarding address” (the website this link points to) is controlled via the redirection plugin. That means I can change where it goes at any time without having to update the book.

A screenshot of the redirection user panel.

The source URL is yourdomain.com/source-url
The Target URL is where you want that link to point to. In this case, the amazon page.

I use this trick with my upcoming books as well. We know that Beyond Addiction is going to be next up, and since we’ve included the first chapter as a preview in Beyond Jealousy, I wanted to be able to link to it.

A screenshot of the redirect user panel.

For now, this link points to the book page on our website. When the book becomes available, I’ll update the redirect Target URL with the amazon link. I make one of these for each vendor. They all link to the website for now, but will be updated with vendor-specific URLs as they become available.

Vivian Arend takes it a step further. Links to her upcoming books redirect straight to her newsletter, where readers can sign up to be notified when the book becomes available.  Since you can change the target URL without touching the book itself, it’s easy to experiment on what you like best without constantly having to upload a new version.

REDIRECT NAMING SCHEME

We know from the previous lesson that I’m a huge fan of search & replace. When I sat down to come up with the naming scheme for my source URLs, I wanted two things:

  • I wanted it to be easy to remember.
    krocha.link/book-titlevendor is something I don’t have to look up over & over. beyond-shameamazon or beyond-painbn are easy to come up with on the fly. If I need to link to the apple version of Beyond Jealousy I know I can just use beyond-jealousyapple. Easy peasy.
  • I wanted it to be something I could search & replace when changing vendors.
    I make my base ebook file with all -amazon links.  When the file has been finalized & tested, all I have to do to make my new versions is Save As (very important–you want to make a new file, not save over the existing one), and then run a search & replace. I find all of the -amazon and replace them with -bn. Then I Save As, find all the -bn and replace them with -apple. This process takes me very little time.

A screenshot of the search & replace field in Sigil.

The first time you go through your book, it’s probably not a bad idea to do it one at a time to make sure there aren’t any stray places where you might have -apple or -general in your book’s text. It’s not likely, but stranger things have happened, and I always caution people to take care when deploying search & replace. (Learn from that naive time I changed a character’s name from Dan to Ben without remembering the book also had a Danielle. Or should I say Benielle.)

OTHER WAYS TO USE REDIRECTS

Once you start using them, they can be a little addictive. The Redirection plugin tracks the # of hits, so you can see how many people have clicked on any given link.  At base minimum, it’s a good way to tell if people are clicking on your links at all.  (I have tons of clicks from amazon books. Almost none from google.)

If you’re willing to take the time to be clever, it can also tell you where they’re clicking. Are people more likely to subscribe to your newsletter at the front or at the back? You can make multiple links to the same place. newsletter-front and newsletter-back can both go to your newsletter, but you’ll know if one gets significantly more clicks than the other.

And there are plenty of other questions to ask. Do readers respond better to a link to the next book directly after The End, or do they seem to like a nice orderly list? I want my ebooks to be exactly what my readers want. I’m constantly trying to think of ways to make them easier to navigate, and how to give readers the information they need without overloading them with stuff they don’t care about.  All of this data is valuable.

For me, redirects are the key to making my front & backmatter simple.  I have redirects for everything–our Facebook page, or twitter names (hey, I changed mine once… @moirarogersbree still gets follows from the backs of old books) even our websites. By keeping as much control as possible over these links, I’m making it easier on myself down the road.  Because the one thing I’ve learned–things are always changing.

No really, next time. Sigil. I swear.

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