Understand Writing Essentials (The Marketing Author 001, Part 5)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Understand Writing Essentials”

You decided you want to write. You started working on your marketing budget. You figured out how to manage your time. You prepared yourself for rejection.

But have you actually learned how to write?

If not, this would be a good time to remind you that it’s important to know what you’re doing if you say you’re a writer.

Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is an echo of my seventh article from the Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, but it’s also one of the most important parts of preparing for a writing career, so let’s learn it again! Go ahead, refresh your memory.

Now, I should emphasize right at the start that understanding the writing essentials doesn’t mean that merely typing words or knowing vocabulary is good enough to prove your skill. Any monkey can type, and any monkey has the potential to type out a few actual words. You tap at the keys long enough and you’ll eventually spell out a word someone will recognize. Likewise, you can flip open a dictionary, point to a word, and write it in whatever sentence you’re working on and sound like you know what it means. You might fool a few people, especially those who don’t normally read (assuming you’re savvy enough to get their attention). But you haven’t proven that you know what you’re doing.

We spent the last four weeks talking about the prep work behind establishing a successful writing career driven by effective marketing, but we haven’t yet discussed the most essential role of the writing and publishing journey—the writing itself. If you don’t know how to write, you’re not going to accomplish much with your writing. Common sense, right? For those of you who spend all day sending emojis to your friends, common sense is that thing we call “shared knowledge,” which is what you have when you make decisions or show understanding in reference to an obvious solution to a problem. For example, if you approach a busy intersection, common sense tells you to wait for the crossing signal to display the “walk” sign before you actually cross. The reason nobody waits for that signal is because, well, I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out.

Now, learning how to write is important, but it’s also important to learn how to write the type of work you want to publish. The fact is, writing isn’t just about words, but it’s also about structure, conventions, styles, and reader expectations. If you fail to deliver on any of these elements, then your writing is not going to accomplish any of the goals you’ve set for yourself. In that case, you’ve written into the wind.

Assuming you don’t want to write into the wind, here’s a sample of writing conventions you’ll want to consider before you start:

Are you writing fiction or nonfiction?

-Each major type has its own set of rules, so you’ll need to learn and follow them. For example, nonfiction focuses on true stories; fiction focuses on fake but sounds true stories.

Are you writing a business book or a relationships book (or a combination of both)?

-Every category or genre of nonfiction must address a main idea, and will ideally tell a true story or attempt to solve a problem or inspire you to come up with something profound to share with other readers.

Are you writing a mystery novel or a romance novel (or a mystery novel about why romance is so popular)?

-Every category of fiction must follow a story arc, told in three or four acts, and take the reader through a series of conflicts until the story’s problem has been solved. If there’s no conflict or structure, then there is no story.

Are you writing something original or are you plagiarizing?

-Let’s skip this one. Protip: Don’t plagiarize.

It’s also important that you know how to tell a story, even if you’re writing nonfiction. Readers are more engaged when they’re not only interested in the topic but also when they find themselves captivated by your awesome storytelling skills. Consider any biography you’ve ever read. Chances are, you get more out of the stories about fighters who overcome the odds (like Unbroken or Breaking Night) than those about winners who stay winners and learn nothing in the process (you probably won’t find any successful examples of this). Just because you write a book of nonfiction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to captivate your reader with twists, turns, and a lesson to learn. I recently read a business biography about Nintendo, called Super Mario, that I couldn’t put down because its author knew how to tell a captivating story using real life and a real timeline of events. Nonfiction doesn’t mean boring!

And, of course, there’s grammar. Learn how to write at the sentence level. Yes, it takes time and practice to figure out how to use your commas and semicolons effectively, but your readers will thank you for your clarity. Don’t skimp on the micro level work. While you’re at it, work on vocabulary. You don’t need to write above a ninth grade reading level (and you probably shouldn’t, as higher reading levels will begin to alienate certain readers), but it’s a good idea to know as many words as possible to prevent long phrases from slowing down the reading when you could easily condense your thoughts yet say the exact same thing.

Challenge Time: Use your vocabulary skills to condense the above paragraph to its simplest form without changing the meaning. Submit your answers in the comments below.

Yes, learning how to write takes time and effort, but it’s the core essential to becoming a successful author. You can save all the money in the world and free up all the time in the world, but none of that will give you a successful writing career if you don’t learn how to write. And the best place to learn how to write is any published book, including those books about writing, of which you can find plenty, online and off. That means you should also learn how to read.

In case you missed my previous article on the fundamentals of writing, here again are some additional tips for you to ponder.

Next week we’ll address the happier sister to rejection, feedback!

Note: This article was supposed to go out on Wednesday, March 29th. I usually set these articles on a timer, but I was falling behind this week, and I hadn’t quite finished with the final draft Tuesday night (still needed to proofread and add my links). I thought I’d be able to finish and post Wednesday afternoon, but I was out and about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, and yesterday I was recovering from exhaustion. So, it’s late. But now it’s posted. I should probably do a post about punctuality and meeting deadlines one of these days.

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The Fun Side of Rejection (The Marketing Author 001, Part 4)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“The Fun Side of Rejection”

Okay, so in The Marketing Author 001, we’ve talked about drive, budget, and time management so far. But what we haven’t discussed yet is intended audience and whether or not they want to hear what we have to say. Yes, we think that everyone is entitled to our opinions, but not everyone will agree. What are we supposed to do with the people who don’t want to hear from us?

Well, ignore them. They’re ignoring us, after all.

But, okay, what about the people who pay attention to us but decide we’re full of crap, or interesting but not interesting enough to respect, or good but a bit overpriced? How do we handle them?

We’re entitled to those people’s opinions.

Here’s the thing: There will always be somebody who doesn’t like what we’re selling. Case in point, in a video series I recently watched, a 17-year-old entrepreneur talks about his first foray into Amazon publishing. When he was 13, he published his first book, but it was so bad (and badly formatted) that his own grandfather gave him a 3-star review (out of five). What he learned in that experience, and what we will all learn at some point, is that you can’t expect to please everyone, and you’re probably lucky to please anyone. This is especially true if you choose to go through traditional publishing (more on that in another article, but good luck with that if you do), but it’s especially true if you’re expecting to extract anyone’s hard-earned money or time to read your stuff. Some people will simply get pissed off, no matter what you do.

It’s human nature to feel ripped off and to preach to others the perils of investing in this shoddy product. It will come to you, even if your name is Harper Lee.

As of this writing, I have five unique reviews posted across several platforms: three for Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, and two for The Computer Nerd (soon to be rereleased under a new name). Both books average at three stars each, when you total everything together. Specifically, each book has one 5-star review, one 1-star review, and Cannonball City currently has a 3-star review on Goodreads (just discovered that the other day, actually, so thank you to whoever rated it—I was beginning to give up on Goodreads). How does each book get such a wide swath of ratings? The same way any book does: readers have unique tastes and expectations, and you’re either going to deliver or you’re not.

Honestly, there isn’t much to say in this lesson, other than this: If you’re going to put your writing out there, make sure you wear your skin thickener while you’re at it. Because if you don’t, you’re going to spend too much of your precious time living under your covers, hiding from the world, and as we’ve learned in the last part, that’s not good time management. The reality is, if you dare to publish your work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere where readers are likely to find you, you’re going to have one of these things happen to you, and probably in this order:

  1. Nobody will buy your book.
  2. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a buyer, it doesn’t mean you’re lucky enough to get a reader.
  3. You might get readers, but nobody will bother to review your work.
  4. A handful of people will rate it, but most will say nothing about it, and no one will write more than two lines about it.
  5. People who thought your book was about something else and missed the point will rate it only to complain about how bad they think it is.
  6. Your friends or their spouses might leave a positive review, if you’re lucky.
  7. You could get a handful of people you don’t know to leave detailed reviews (congratulations; you’re in the top one percent of authors if this happens).
  8. You might get some 4- and 5-star reviews from complete strangers (congratulations; your name is J.K. Rowling).
  9. You could get nothing but thousands of comprehensive 5-star reviews from people you’ll never meet (congratulations; you’re the first).

You get the idea. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s what you’re in for if you don’t have a marketing plan in place.

Oh, yeah, you forgot that this series was about author marketing, didn’t you? To be honest, so did I. But, if you work on your marketing platform early and figure out how to get those beta readers before the book’s launch, you might fare better than the average author at the day of release. You may still get negative reviews (and you should count your blessings if you do because no one will think you got those reviews fraudulently if you’ve gotten some 1-stars in there, and you should never get anything fraudulently), but negative reviews are better than no reviews, so take them while you can. At least that means someone was willing to read your work. They may not get the message you’re delivering, but at least they tried.

The important takeaway from rejection, however, and I’ll talk more about this in my article about receiving feedback (in a couple of weeks), is that sometimes your rejection will yield a reason for rejection, and when that happens, if it happens, you can use it as an opportunity to learn. And, yes, we love positive reviews. We love them because they elevate our egos—I wrote a 5-star reviewed book, so suck it, world!—but we also love them because they validate our decisions, which we all want to make soundly. But there will always be blind fans, as there will always be informative naysayers. We have to train ourselves to take everything with a grain of salt and remember that not everyone belongs to our audience, and not everyone understands our vision, but not everyone is ignorant, and some people who reject us do so with good reason, and it’s our job to listen if they tell us why.

But we should also forgive those who don’t tell us a thing. At least they bothered to leave a rating, and at least they bothered to buy our books. So, chill the next time you see a bad review, or are told “this isn’t for me.” At least they didn’t ignore you. Some writers don’t even have the luxury of getting noticed.

Next week we’ll focus on the writing essentials.

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Time Management Looks Like Success (The Marketing Author 001, Part 3)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Time Management Looks Like Success”

Last week we talked about budgeting our money. This week we’re going to talk about budgeting our time.

Before we go anywhere with this, I think it’s important to acknowledge the value that we put on each. If you’ve started building a marketing budget, and if you’ve made any progress toward securing payment on your next big marketing need, then you probably feel accomplished and progressive. Good for you; you recognize the value of money. But have you actually created the work that you’re going to pour all of that marketing dollar juice into? If not, then perhaps you need a refresher on the value of time.

Let’s start with a brief narrative about my state of mind the day I wrote this article’s first draft:

Even though I’m posting this article on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, I’m writing it on Monday the 6th, while I am currently on vacation.

And, guess what? I’m also sick. Yay!

Okay, so what does this mean for The Marketing Author 001? It means I had plans to be up early today, at an hour when I’d normally be at work, and get loads of writing, research, and whatever important things I can think of done, “whatever” including anything I normally can’t do when I’m at work. But because I’m sick and don’t want to face the world today, I slept in. I slept in hard. I’m writing this in the evening, when I’d be home from work anyway, because I got a late start today. My opportunities for accomplishing more were inhibited by my reality for having time for less. When I’m sick, I don’t want to think, or speak, or do anything other than sleep. If I don’t have to work, my excuses for sleeping in grow. That’s what happened this morning.

(And now for a quick writing break because my pizza is here and I must eat it.)

Okay, see? Distractions abound, and distractions like dinner will happen. Sickness, too. Having these things happen on vacation when I’m supposed to have all the time in the world to get anything and everything done will also happen. At some point, I just have to expect the distractions and figure out how to get around them. We all do.

This is not a surprise. Distraction is an enemy of time, and one that we all fall into at some point.

But so is disinterest. That, too, is something we all fall into at some point. Surprise!

Okay, so let’s pause, breathe, and explore this idea for a moment. We write because we want to. That’s what we tell ourselves all the time. Right? No one is forcing us to produce our business books or novels because we’re beginners who have no writing contracts. Right? We write because we want to.

But, do we really want to?

Really?

Often, unprofessional writers will make the excuse that they don’t have time to write because they work too much or have families to give attention to or have too much content on their DVRs going to waste, and if they start writing, they have to neglect those other things, and why would they want to do that? And sure, that may be true if they think they have to devote eight hours a day to writing, or fit in those requisite 2000 words before bed that every professional writer claims to write every day.

But those are just excuses. What does excuse even mean? To get out of something? What are we getting out of? Something we want to do???

Tell you what; to save time, let’s just skip to the list of ways we can manage our writing time better, since that’s what we really want out of this message. It’s always about the lists, right? Here we go:

  1. Make sure you want to write.

The end.

Yep, that’s the whole list.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t writers always having to force themselves to write? The answer is no. No, sometimes writers actually want to write. Just depends on what they’re writing. To paraphrase a quote from my favorite author, Max Barry, if you’re lacking the motivation to write a particular scene, chances are that scene isn’t very good and probably doesn’t need writing anyway. So, work on a different scene. If the whole book is going downhill, then write another book. I think this also applies to nonfiction. If you’re struggling to work through a particular piece of information, ask yourself if you really need to include it in the book. If the whole thing is flawed, ask yourself if you’re working on a topic that anyone can actually benefit from reading about.

But, what if we have an interesting or helpful topic and still have to force ourselves to write? Well, the straightforward answer is that we just force ourselves to write, just like we force ourselves to go to work. End of story. If we want to write, we will. If we don’t, we won’t.

Or, if we’re professionals who actually want to develop a business through writing, we’ll write anyway, even if we don’t want to. We’ll sneak writing into the crannies of our days. Or we’ll carve out large chunks of hours at those times we know we’re at our creative best. Or we’ll hire an assistant to type while we dictate over the phone, assuming we’ve established a budget for that sort of thing.

It’s important to realize that we give most of our time to the people or things we care most about. If we find ourselves making excuses why we can’t make the time to do something, it’s time to figure out where our hearts have gone because our hearts clearly aren’t in the business we say we’ve sunk it into.

Truth is, it’s easy to make excuses why we can’t write today. And those excuses can cut a deep gash into our allotted 24-hour days. But if we really want to become successful at this craft—the learning, the doing, and the sharing—then we gotta stop making those dumb excuses and get back to work. We don’t have to spend eight hours a day writing. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in just eight minutes (I mean, if you can improve your abs in that much time, imagine what you can do to your brain!), so stop coming up with reasons why you can’t write. If you want to be a professional, then start acting like one, and if you are a professional, start setting a good example for those who are trying to learn from you. I still have to decide if that’s a blanket statement to all professionals, or if I’m just talking to myself here.

Next week we’ll focus on rejection.

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Marketing Takes Money, so Learn to Budget (The Marketing Author 001, Part 2)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Marketing Takes Money, so Learn to Budget”

Okay, so I’m assuming you still want to write? That’s good. You’re a crazy person, but, yeah, good for you!

You’ve written your story, or maybe you’ve just planned it out and are looking for time or inspiration to write it (we’ll talk more about that in a future article, by the way). Or maybe you haven’t gotten even that far. Maybe you’re just at the idea stage, and by “idea,” I mean, “I’m thinking about becoming a writer.” Honestly, that’s okay if you’re in one of these early stages. We all start somewhere. It’s probably for the best. But, regardless of where you are in the writing process, there is still one question you need to consider before you go any farther: Are you writing for fun, or are you writing for business?

Let’s assume that you’re writing for business. And, by business, I mean writing with the intention of sharing it with strangers in exchange for free downloads or money. One thing you’ll learn if you dig deep enough into the archives of publishing professionalism is that you’ll need a platform and the ability to market if you want any success.

Wait! Don’t run away yet. You just got here! Sit. It’s okay.

I hate that idea, too: Marketing is a numbers game and platforms are for gasbags. I get it. But, if you think about it, there’s some truth in that statement. If nobody knows who you are or what you can do, then nobody’s going to come looking for you when you finally publish your book. What they all say is true. And by “they,” I mean publishing experts. You need to prepare for your book launch ahead of time (if you’re writing for someone other than yourself, or for something other than fun). Get your audience now, your promotions out now, your mailing list in tip-top shape now. Anyone who has ever been successful at publishing will tell you the same thing: “Start your marketing ten years ago.” Have a website now. A landing page, now! I could go on. Basically everything I have yet to do myself because I’m a writing genius but a marketing idiot.

After having no success at doing things my way, I’m ready to agree with them. But I’m going to add one thing ahead of even the marketing and platforming measures that you need to perform, something far more important than either, and the real decision-maker into whether your book will become a success. Like marketing skill, it’s something I don’t have much of now, but something I know I need more of if I’m to accomplish anything that gets the word success stamped on its face. You (as I do) need money.

Let’s consider the following:

Business takes money, and writing is just another business, like the food industry, the clothing industry, the news industry, etc. It’s just the one business where the operators who make it run, the writers, often forget they need more than writing skills to keep it running. Business success requires marketing, professionalism, and, of course, lots and lots of money, and if writing is a business, then writing needs these things, too. The writer is an artist, though, and we all know that artists don’t have any money. This is why we do all the creatin’ and let the businessfolk do all the moneyin’. Just as nature intended.

In a perfect world, this would be true, for this perfect world would recognize everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and allow each to operate within his or her own range of skills in order to bring maximum excellence to all that is achieved. But we write (fiction and nonfiction alike) because we know it’s an imperfect world with imperfect people who follow through on their imperfect ideas, and imperfect things get in the way of other things that could’ve been perfect, if only—

You get the idea. Nothing’s perfect, hence we write in an effort to right imperfect wrongs. This is why professional chefs don’t just cook for a living. They also blog, build connections, and schmooze with rich people. They build a lifestyle, and people respond. Look at that shirt you’re wearing. Who made it? Okay, who markets it? Check the label. It probably came from an overseas sweat shop, but it didn’t stay in that shop, did it? Somehow, somebody found a way to get it out of the sweat shop and onto your back. The marketing, whether you agree with it or not, worked. Now, even though many industries work with teams and many hands, we can’t always wait for the businesspeople to help us get our acts together. It’s on us, the writers, to become the businesspeople. Especially if we’re independent, but even if we’re not. Our industry may pay like a sweatshop, but it doesn’t run like one. We have to market ourselves, just as the celebrity chefs have to market themselves.

It starts with money.

In May 2015, I took a chance uploading one of my short stories to Smashwords as an e-book. That story, Shell Out, which, out of no sense of irony, is about a desperate man’s quest to earn his financial success any way that he can in a world that wants to take everything from him and give nothing back, is one of my favorites, and the one I thought for sure would give me my best foot forward into the reading public. I even designed a cover for it that I thought would catch people’s eyes. I was proud of what I was about to unleash on the world. As a distribution service, Smashwords sent it to all of the major e-book retailers save Amazon, where anyone could download and read it. The fact that it had gone to Apple and Barnes & Noble made me giddy inside. Everyone would now know my name and know what I can do.

I got a few downloads because it was free, but it wasn’t a hit. No one reviewed it. No one wrote me about it. Within a week, the downloads had waned. Then I released my next story, another coming-of-age tale, this one about breakups, called Eleven Miles from Home, giving it a cover I liked. It ran the same course—some downloads here, a few downloads there, no review, no comments, no money exchanged. Oh, did I mention I had released them for free? It was one of the strategies I had employed in order to gain a readership. Did they read? I don’t know. I didn’t have a mailing list established, just social media links within each book, as well as this website, and nobody was really coming to check any of them out. If they were reading, they weren’t saying so. Amusement, which I released a few days after that, while the momentum from the first two was still hot, had far fewer downloads and couldn’t catch up to the “popularity” of the first two. I was proud of that cover, with its ‘60s-style vector art weirdness, which captured the trippy nature of the story well, and eye-catching color, fitting for a story about cartoon characters facing off against a professionally serious businessman. I can’t say for certain if anyone else was impressed with it. My download frequency says no.

But, even though free books could get downloaded easily (whether by many or a few), it didn’t mean people would read them or respond to them. And as time went on and my research continued, I realized that less than 10 free downloads a day, with fewer than 150 views on launch day, is bad.

My best launch day, which happened with my fourth released short story, When Cellphones Go Crazy, got me 300 views on Day 1, but fewer than 30 free downloads resulting from those views (a whopping low of 10% conversions; I usually pull between 20-25% conversions for each new release). The only book in my bibliography to ever gain over 35 downloads in a single day is Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, and only after someone at Barnes & Noble had given it a five-star rating, almost a month after release, not on its launch day. Incidentally, this book also holds the launch day record of 35 downloads, most likely for its epic length and free launch price (it’s $4.99 now).

This poor track record of performance convinced me to pull all of my future books out of preorder and rethink my release strategy. Then I started subscribing to countless free webinars and marketing sites to find out what I was doing wrong. And I learned a lot. But then the experts I was learning from started asking me for money to hear about their really juicy tactics for getting ahead in publishing.

I knew there would be a catch. There always is.

I didn’t jump at any of these opportunities to learn at a premium level in the beginning, but the information I’d constantly get for free was essentially the same: book covers, editing, and all of those marks of quality that readers crave before even considering buying a book would have to be professionally done if I wanted my books to be taken seriously. Never mind the story or its quality of writing. The aesthetics are as important as the substance. Satisfied expectations are more important than reinventing the wheel. If I didn’t have background in any of these secondary necessities, then I would have lackluster, if any, sales. When I’d set prices for several of my novels to break the freebie habit and no one would buy them, I realized there is probably some truth to that.

Seems counterproductive, doesn’t it? We sell books in order to fund the services necessary to make them and our businesses better equipped and running, but it only works if people buy them, and if we can’t pay for the services we need to make them great at the get-go, then no one will buy them. And without the money to fund our platforms, no one will even find them. Don’t we want them to find us and buy our books?

This is exactly why authors are told to never give up their day jobs. But it’s also a wakeup call that we need to learn how to budget because, without a budget, we’re not going to have the money needed to pay for these clearly necessary services. If we try to do everything for free, like I did, we won’t get anywhere with our audience, like me.

Here’s my situation: I’ve acquired significant debt trying to survive in a commercial world. I spend every month trying to pay it down, but it’s hard to make progress, and it takes a long, long time to see results. The problem is that knowledge often costs money, and any time I want to learn something new, I either learn what I can for free and try to fill in the gaps with common sense or cross-referencing, or get myself deeper into debt going for the direct lessons. Then it takes me a long time before I’m able to spend anything on the next great lesson, which may come around only once a year. And, I’ve got nothing left over for the actual marketing. It’s kind of stupid to be in that situation.

My situation is pretty typical, unfortunately. We’ve become a culture of debt. We take out a credit card, run it into the ground, then take out another so that we can keep charging while we tie up our money into paying bills. We often end the month with nothing left to our names. If we have an emergency, we’re screwed. If we’re given an awesome opportunity to better our lives, but the cost involved is just out of our reach, we’re screwed. When I was in my early 20s, I had plenty of money to spend on any opportunity that came my way. Then debt crept in, and now I’m lucky to afford 10 copies of my own book to give to friends and family.

What I’ve learned from The Total Money Makeover, and common sense, is that making more debt is not in anyone’s interest, and if we want to get the most out of life, we need to start planning our money and where it goes better. This means telling our money what to do, not the other way around. This means planning for what we want, and then doing what we can to prepare for it.

In the case of self-publishing, we now know that, unless we’re experts at these individual fields, we’ll need to buy book cover services, editing services, interior design services, ISBNs from Bowker (if we want full control over our books’ identities), printing services, ad space, websites, and so on, not to mention any course or book that teaches us how to manage it all, and all of that can get really expensive really quickly. A new sister site of The Book Designer, called The Book Makers, opened this week, and it looks like the perfect go-to for author services, like cover design, interior design, etc. But the packages begin at $999. Do I have that much money? No. Do you? Probably not. But this is cheap compared to the other services that are out there (given the tremendous quality it boasts), and yet still way more expensive than any of us can handle.

Chances are, in order to make any progress in book publishing without a growing budget, we’ll at best be able to piecemeal our books’ production as money reaches certain thresholds, and maybe within two or three years, we’ll be able to finally afford to give our books an attractive first impression.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to afford book services and the courses that teach me how to do things right the first time now, as the opportunities to acquire them are given.

Budgeting is hard work, and I am in no way a master at it. But I acknowledge its importance, and I’m working to get it under control, and you should, too, if you want to get anywhere in this business, or in any industry for that matter. Everything in life costs money, but you need to decide now where you’re going to send your money. Do you need that new video game or those ten new pairs of shoes? Or do you need to pay off the guy who’s going to make your book cover a contender in the busy, competitive book market? Wisdom and self-control are important components to keeping a budget growing, but again, it’s necessary to have both if you want to succeed.

Before you make any concrete decisions about getting published, get your budget in order first. If you can, save up about $2000 for services you can’t do well yourself (including website and mailing list fees), and another $1000 for training if you need it. These are likely overestimations, but my motto is that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, and supplementing that with the age-old saying, you get what you pay for, and I think it is safe to say that you may as well save up for the good stuff. You still need to research anything you’re thinking of giving your money to, as not everyone providing a particular service deserves your money (more on that in a future The Marketing Author 001 article). But if you’re ever pressed for a decision, and you know that the $500 opportunity you’re researching is perfect for you, you won’t have to agonize over it since you’ll already have the money to pay for it.

I’m an advocate for doing as much as you can for as little as possible, as money you put into the system is money you have to get out of it for the investment to be worth anything, but at some point I have to acknowledge the fact that there are people out there who have better skills and better technology at doing the things I need done for my book to shine than I do, so I have to position myself to buy their services, and that means establishing a rigid budget for marketing, that I should’ve been working on years ago, long before May 2015.

I’m starting by setting aside about $50 per pay period, or as much as I can handle up to $50, into a private account and letting that grow accordingly. This same account will get any dollar I earn on my current books, which I can use to further my marketing endeavors. If I do this right, I might be able to give my books the feet-forward they deserve, and maybe I’ll eventually get to that point where I don’t have to partition a large chunk of money I make from my day job in order to fund my side business. If all goes well, my side business could even become my day job.

Isn’t that what you want to happen for yourself, too?

Disclaimers: Much of the information I write about budgeting in this article comes from tips I’ve learned reading The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, who in turn got all of his tips from grandmas the world over. If you really want to get good at money management, make sure you pick up a copy of his book, or check out his website and podcast. Include it in your budget. Practice what you learn today!

If you want to hear more about the new all-purpose designer’s site, The Book Makers, here’s the announcement post at The Book Designer. Looks like something I’ll want to take advantage of myself as soon as possible. I’m not an affiliate, by the way. I just think it looks cool and helpful.

Come back next Wednesday for Part 3, time management.

And, please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

The Pros and Cons of the Nintendo Switch

March 7, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo since I was a kid, but I’ve admittedly fallen off of the Nintendo wagon after the Gamecube started to wane in value. I wanted a Wii, but it was impossible to get for the first three years of its shelf life without camping overnight at the nearest box store, which I would never do, and by the time I could get one by simply walking into the store and saying, “Hey, gimme a Wii,” I was no longer making enough money to actually afford one. So, I never got on the Wii train. When Wii U came around, I had already given up. It didn’t look that appealing to me, to be honest, certainly not worth the money they were asking for, and I had gotten over the console years of my life anyway. I’d already missed out on the Wii, so I may as well miss out on the Wii U, too.

With the handhelds, it’s the same story, but worse. In short, I never wanted a Nintendo handheld. I was all for playing other people’s Gameboys and Gameboy Advances, but I didn’t want to invest in my own, and I basically missed the DS and 3DS years as a result. A Nintendo fan, yes? But a diehard Nintendo fan? I guess the evidence is stacked against me here.

But now we have the Nintendo Switch released (as of last Friday), and suddenly I’m excited for Nintendo all over again. It’s both console, which I’ve missed during the last two generations, and handheld, which I’ve missed since the Game & Watch days (I did have a few of those when I was a kid), and the melding of the two forms is simply genius. Combined with the new split motion control remote, which they’re calling a “joycon,” and its advanced motion technology that can simulate force and resistance as much as record motion, and I daresay Nintendo has put forth the one system that can make a grown man become a kid again.

I still don’t have money to spare, much like it was when I was a kid, but if you have money and you’re looking to blow it on something you don’t need, should you spend it on a Nintendo Switch? Here are the pros and cons of getting yours today.

Pros:

  • The Nintendo Switch launches with a new open world Zelda game. This is all the pro you need.
  • The Nintendo Switch also launches with a new Bomberman game. Wanna party hard? This game’s the bomb (I’m assuming).
  • The system is small and the handheld is even smaller. No penis envy with this machine!
  • The joycons come in dual gray, or blue and red. They don’t know what they want to be. Perfect symbol for our confused modern culture! We call this relevance. The Nintendo Switch is relevant.
  • The joycons are so small, they fit in the palm of your hand. See pro #3.
  • You can weight train with the heavy resistant joycons. Size doesn’t matter.
  • Mario is back in his cool new go-kart, and he’s ready for some road rage.
  • You can play against your friends anywhere, thanks to the portability of the Switch.
  • The Switch has a cool “click” sound that can jumpstart any DJs library.

Cons:

  • As soon as you walk away from the controller, your little brother will beat the Zelda dungeon for you, and then hide the controller when you come back, laughing at your stupidity.
  • Bomberman is best played with four or more people, which might be depressing if you realize you don’t know anyone other than yourself. At least there’s online play! This lets you play with complete strangers you will never meet in real life. So, this isn’t a con; it’s a joy-con!
  • If you still feel small around this machine, well…
  • Getting the blue and red controllers will just make your choices in life even harder to make, as you still gotta pick one to use.
  • The joycons are so small that they can really go flying if you’re getting vigorous with them and lose your grip. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’ll bounce off a wall.
  • The joycons are best used in a cow-milking simulator. Really?
  • Mario Kart’s new addition will remind you that Nintendo is only good for Nintendo characters, and you’ll soon lament spending $300 on the machine, plus accessories and your six or seven games throughout the lifetime of the machine. Just like it was with the last few Nintendo systems you owned. Oh, but these games are so much fun. Joy-con!
  • Thanks to the portability of the Switch, you can play it anywhere, with anyone: at work, at school, on the subway. Likewise, you can have it easily stolen from you anywhere, by anyone: at work, at school, on the subway.
  • There’s nothing bad about that “click.” Just watch the videos on YouTube. That thing is catchy.

So, there you have it. If you think the Nintendo Switch is the best $300+ that you’ll spend in 2017, then go get yours today. I think the stores are stocking it. It’s not like Black Friday is coming anytime soon. Does anyone even know it’s out now? Eh, you could probably get it now.

In all seriousness, I’d like to get this one, too. Mario goes to New York in his next game, Super Mario Odyssey. How cool is that? Pro!

Missed my other Pros and Cons lists? I’ve put together a handy table of contents to keep you well-oriented. Check them out.

Make Sure You Want It (The Marketing Author 001, Part 1)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Make Sure You Want It”

Once upon a time, I was told that writers, on average, don’t make any money. I laughed at this. Of course they make money. Ever hear of James Patterson? Stephen King? J.K. Rowling? Should I continue? Writers, too, can make money, even better money than their doctors and lawyers. All they need is Powerball level luck. I got this.

Yeah, I don’t got this.

When I took English as a major in college, I saw the possibilities waiting: copywriting jobs, editing jobs, marketing jobs, and so on. Do you want to teach? they’d all ask me. No! I saw copywriting, editing, marketing, etc. in my future. I graduated over a decade ago.

I now tutor for a living. That’s one stage below teaching.

Sheesh.

When I was in high school, and the counselors asked what I “wanted to be when I grow up,” I didn’t know what to tell them. I settled on “computer applications” because I liked computers, but I didn’t like programming; I liked writing. I settled on this fusion of job goals for most of my high school career because it seemed to be what aligned closest to my actual goals. I was fully aware for most of that journey that what I was essentially saying was that I wanted to be a secretary when I grow up. Eventually I stopped lying to myself that this was an aspiration, caved to reality, and changed my focus. When I got to college, I chose “Liberal Arts” as my major, since that was in “Communications,” which was the only field I could stomach as a career choice given my options at the time. None of that would lead me any higher than the rank of secretary, most likely. I sucked it up because I trusted the education system for some reason, and I assumed it would all work out in the end.

Finally, when I got to the University of Central Florida, I could choose the major I wanted most: English. And, to my even happier surprise, I could choose a specific track tailored to creative writing. Finally, I could work toward the life and career goals I actually wanted: I could become a creative writer when I grow up!

English? Do you want to teach? No! I want to write for a living.

I got that degree, but I couldn’t get any real opportunities with any company to write anything. I’ve been told time and again that technical writers, copywriters, editors, copyeditors, etc. are paid reasonably well (at least three times better than what I make in education currently), but what I wasn’t told is that you need a portfolio of contracts you’ve fulfilled with other companies prior to getting a job to show off what you’ve done (not what you can do), that freelancing is often reputation based (meaning, someone had to take a chance on you once upon a time, and then you had to do such a great job that they’d be willing to hire you again), and that to get a job doing anything worth the education you have, you have to know someone on the inside who believes in your ability enough to give you that shot (and as I’ve discovered in certain cases, sometimes that’s not even enough to get the job).

The end result has been heartbreaking, frustrating, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret investing thousands of dollars into getting what amounts to a useless English degree. I like helping people get better at writing, but I don’t like swimming in debt while having to live in a garage to spare myself from paying rent or a mortgage to anyone. Not to mention, my poor car is looking like it’s ready for the junkyard, it needs a paint job so badly, a paint job that would break my budget. It would’ve been awesome if one of these companies I’ve applied to over the years had believed in me enough to give me a shot.

The things we dream and the realities that follow…

This is why we write fiction (or nonfiction in some cases). We need something to perpetuate the dream as far and as long as possible, as reality tries so hard, and often succeeds, at killing it.

When we make the decision to write and publish our own books, we set ourselves up for a new level of heartbreak, under the same exact conditions given to the job market: It doesn’t matter how good we are, or how well we can entertain, educate, or prove our talents; if no one is willing to take a chance on us, then we will come up zero every time. You can love your craft all you want; until you get someone else to believe in you enough to actually give you money for your work, your craft, the love of your life won’t feed you or give you a stable roof over your head.

At the end of the day, you need to make the decision that you write because you have to, because it’s the only thing that makes sense to you. Maybe you’ll get lucky, like Stephen King, who says in his book On Writing that he couldn’t imagine doing anything other than writing, so that was his excuse for taking the gamble on a writing career (it worked out just fine for him, by the way)—sometimes the chance pays off, too. But even if you know you won’t make a dime, you need to make the decision that you’ll write anyway, because you have to, not because you expect it to make your dreams comes true (except for maybe that one dream about writing a book someday).

But you should still strive to make it work in your favor. You have a message to share, a story to tell, a reason to need to write. At some point, you’re going to realize that writing is a terrible career if you want to eat something other than soup seven nights a week. But defending criminals in court for six figures a year is equally terrible if you’re betraying your heart or your nature. Sometimes you just have to realize that there is no greener grass, that all of it has its pros and cons, so you may as well just stick to the thing that gives you the most fulfillment. For me, that isn’t defending criminals who deserve to be locked up. For me, that means writing.

If you feel in your gut that you need to give writing a chance, and by proxy, publication a chance, then be ready for the pain. But, no amount of pain can deny the end result: a book you can be proud of, and a wide world in which to share it in. If anything, sometimes the pain is worth it. Any woman who gives birth to a happy child could testify to that. Sometimes, in spite of the statistics, the naysayers, and the quite likely reality that you won’t make any of your investments back, you just got to do it anyway. When that story or instructional burns within you, you’ll lose sleep if you can’t get it out, which is worse than losing money.

Of course, if you’re smarter than me, you’ll get that six-figure job and make time to write on the side. Doctors and lawyers publish books all the time. As do secretaries and people who work in education.

If you’re looking into the future and you want to see success, do what you can to secure it with something realistic first. You can always write on the side. Chances are, if you specialize in a field (we’ll say politics for laughs), you can use your knowledge to tell even deeper stories than those of us who have no specialization. What can a doctor write about? Medical dramas! What can an English teacher write about? Literature analysis dramas! Wait…no; that sounds awful. Or does it?

The purpose of The Marketing Author 001 series is to show you how to be ready for the opportunities that come your way, assuming you have decided that you need to write. Next week, we’ll talk about money. But before we worry about money, we need to get our goals in order. And, in order to prioritize our goals, we need to understand what our goals will get us. We need to make sure that we want this, this writing life. It’s an exciting life, sure. But like anything else, it comes with its buckets of stress. You ever wonder why writers drink so much? Because it’s a stereotype that isn’t necessarily true today. But also because writers don’t know how to relax. There’s always a story to tell, just as there is always a bill to pay. Stress comes from not knowing which will come knocking first.

Can you handle that? If so, then let’s get on the rollercoaster together.

Come back next Wednesday for Part 2, budgeting.

And, please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.