Category Archives: Hobbies

Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed (The Marketing Author 001, Part 10)

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

“Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed”

Life is a nut.

There’s no joke or punchline here. Life is a nut. You can have the most perfect plan in the world, perfectly orchestrated, perfectly prepared, perfectly funded, and life will still find a way to intervene on its own behalf to do whatever it can to push your plan into a wall at 900 miles an hour because life has to dip its hands into everything perfect and mess it up because life is also a jerk. It’s a lot like a Batman villain. Just when you think you have some sense of control (Batman), you lose it because life has other crazy disturbing plans, which may include laughing in your face or watching the world burn (Joker).

Is this something you recognize? Have you had something planned, something that would change your life for the better even, just to watch it come crashing down because you can control only some of the factors involved? If the answer is no, then congratulations, you have no ambition or vision. And, if you have neither, then you have no need to read further. You are in a safe space, and nobody likes you.

Life didn’t become a nut by obeying your will or granting your wishes. It became a nut the moment man thought he could improve upon perfection then eternally messed up the order of what perfection is. Life became a nut because when life has order (perfection), it doesn’t need to fill any holes with incompatible plans. And life would never have such a thing! Not these days!

When we set out to write a book, we have big plans in mind. Writing the book is part of the plan, sure, but so is getting it out to the public. We imagine sales upon sales rolling in, growing for us a massive passive income that can sustain our appetites for weeks, months, or even days! We think every word will translate to “wow,” and every period will be akin to the stroke of a gong, filled with such bravado, such resonance that the whole world must hear it.

But no, our periods will get squashed by life’s big nut sack with the rest of our dreams. It’s the order of things today.

Launching a book presents the same problems. We can set up a preorder and still come out with zero sales. We can host a giveaway, and still lose all of our newly interested participants the moment the prize is drawn and all but one person loses. We can build our email lists over time and never crack 10 subscribers. We can spend hundreds of dollars on promotions, hundreds more on covers, copywriting, and editing, and still fail to sell more than a handful of copies at launch.

Life is a nut.

But we can stand up to it.

We have to be ready to fail at anything we do, especially in marketing and writing, but only because it strengthens our resolve to continue; because, at some point in this journey, we’ll figure out how to outsmart life. At some point, we’ll develop the knowledge, skill, endurance, drive, or random luck to find success.

And success is a lot like blood. When we taste it, we become ravenous for it. Then we start making life listen. Then we find our rhythm and learn how to dodge the wall that life is driving us toward at 900 miles per hour.

Yes, we have to be ready to fail at anything, but we should still plan to succeed. No plan is perfect, but even imperfect plans can reach a happy resolution, as long as the people enacting them don’t give up on them, instead making changes as needed. The reason the most successful people become successful is because they know life will try to screw them over, and they know that they will fail before they succeed, and they will develop a thick enough skin to drive them forward even when failure tries to drive them back. They won’t back down in fear. They won’t give up on their prayers. They will keep fighting for what they believe in, even if the opposition keeps knocking them down. Eventually, the opposition will tire of their persistence and back down. Eventually, life will throw down a peace offering and say, “Okay, you win.”

Remember, Batman defeats the Joker in the end. Usually.

Yes, life sucks, but don’t give up on it. If you want people to read your book, learn those marketing tips that so many successful people before you have learned and then take a chance on releasing it. You won’t reach everyone, but you can use your experience to reach someone. It’s a lot like meeting the person of your dreams. The first step when you meet them is to say hello. Life rarely botches that part up. Usually.

But even if it does, you can try again next time. Make sure there will be a next time.

Next week will be about instructors. Maybe you’ll read that one, too?

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Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence (The Marketing Author 001, Part 9)

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“Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence”

At some point, we’re going to send our work to a place where the public eye may see it. It’s inevitable, if we don’t lock our darlings in a file somewhere among the dark recesses of our hard drives first. If we care anything about learning from our own lessons, we’ll share what we’ve learned with complete strangers who have identifiable experiences and compare notes. By that, I mean, we’ll write what’s on our minds, and somebody we don’t know will likely criticize our thoughts in the form of a review on Amazon. It’s all fair in the game of knowledge trade.

But the inevitable has a maturation point, and we shouldn’t rush anything that isn’t ready for show. Just like that green banana that we await for ripeness, we can eat it now, if we really want to, but it won’t quite be full of its expected nutrients, and it certainly won’t taste very good. Likewise, we don’t want to delay something so long that we rob it of its best opportunity to put a strong foot forward. If we wait until the banana is brown and mushy, we, nor anybody, will no longer want to consume it.

When we think of marketing, we think of releasing products at the exact right time when they can gain the best traction in the marketplace, and sometimes that means anticipating what the market will want ahead of time. Major corporations plan for this cycle of desire annually, and create products according to a schedule that will satisfy this expected demand best. For example, if you turn on your TV tonight, you’ll probably see an ad or two for Samsung’s next great invention, the Galaxy S8, and you’ll likely salivate at its exclusive new features, like the expanded window that makes it look like an infinity pool. I know I think it’s cool, and I know I kind of want one. It’s good marketing, for sure. But more importantly, its upcoming release is timely: the Galaxy S7 was released about this time last year, and in the world of cellphones, you better have the next update ready within a year. If Samsung releases the S8 too soon after the S7, its customers will feel cheated. If it waits too long, its customers will buy whatever Apple is releasing this summer. Samsung knows its window for release is narrow, and if it wants to keep its customers happy, it better hit that window, and it better do so with as few snags or misfires as possible.

We can see the same needs and issues in writing. Biopics, for example, are timely if we’re hitting an anniversary of a major event. A year and five days ago, Prince died. Earlier this week, tributes to Prince appeared all over the place. If these tributes had surfaced two months ago, or two months from now, they’d still hold value, but they wouldn’t be as timely, and ultimately not as popular. Magazine sales might not spike as well as the publications might like. Radio stations might not hold a listener’s attention for as long as they could if they were to air a marathon of the artist’s hits on the day of the anniversary. A televised tribute might not have as many viewers if held on any other day. These tributes are all subject to timeliness, and releasing them any other time would yield a lesser result, and, inevitably, a lesser profit.

As a marketing author, we should consider what our product contains, and what type of release schedule would maximize its exposure. Is it better to release a book on a Tuesday or a Saturday? Should a young adult fantasy book come out the same weekend as a major Hollywood movie of a similar theme, or should it be deliberately delayed to capture anyone still champing at the bit for more of the same? Or should it be released ahead of time in anticipation of the movie sucking so badly that it destroys the genre? These are important considerations to make before releasing a title.

But, these considerations are also important for deciding how long it takes us to formulate our ideas and create our products, and even for deciding when to start working on them. If we know we want to release a blockbuster action thriller during the summer beach-reading season (incidentally the same season that Hollywood releases most of its blockbuster action thrillers), then we should probably start writing that book by NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) if we want to ensure that we’ll have a finished product with sound editing and cover art and a decent amount of marketing behind it by May. Or, if we can crank it out faster, then we can start later, but we still need to anticipate those snags that might delay our productivity, so earlier is better. We can always delay release of a finished product until the hour of maturation (when it will perform best), but it’s hard to successfully launch a product that isn’t ready for our discerning and unforgiving readers. Remember, nobody wants to eat a green banana.

When we write something we’re proud of, we want to share it with the world immediately. But pushing it out the door before it has its pants on might not be the best plan. To successfully market anything, we need a schedule, and that means marketing smart. Before we launch anything, we need to remember the old cliché, “Fools rush in.” If we wouldn’t marry somebody we don’t yet know well, then why would we throw our baby into a pool of sharks without first giving it a flashlight and a shotgun, or a party of cool people without some kind of beacon that says, “Hey, I’m cool, too!”? We’d want to give it the best chance against the opposition as we can. Sending our books out unprepared is as bad of an idea as sending them out in a season when nobody is interested in that topic. We don’t need just a schedule; we need smarts to plan effectively.

So, my advice today is to get smart. If you’re not smart, figure out how to become smart. Then use that newfound smartness to plan a properly structured and timed release. And make sure that banana is ripe and ready for consumption before you ask people to eat it.

Next week we’ll go over more planning, so plan to be here! (See what I did there?)

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Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach (The Marketing Author 001, Part 8)

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

“Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach”

I don’t want to drop names here, but at 8:30 Monday morning, I received a text message from an online marketer about a course (s)he’s pushing, which was to close that night, in the hopes that I would join. A few hours later, I got a voicemail (probably automated) from the same person. The course, as far as I can tell, is not only successful, but valuable, and I’m assuming very helpful to anyone who isn’t fully versed in its strategies. It’s also expensive. If I were to sign on with it, I’d commit about $997 (or $1,997, depending on the package) over the course of just a few months, which is a heavy margin to devote my low income to. Having that kind of sales pitch at 8:30 on a Monday morning through my own phone is alarming, even if the course is probably very good.

Why did I get this sales pitch so early in the morning? No idea, but I got the pitch at all because I signed up for this person’s mailing list. I did that because (s)he was offering free information that I wanted so I could better my marketing skills. Or, I don’t know; maybe I just liked the freebie (s)he was giving away. Could’ve been anything.

One of the components of indie publishing, marketing, authorship, readership, etc. is that entrepreneurs and budding entrepreneurs want people to sign up for their books, courses, etc., so those who do sign will go onto their mailing lists. This is no surprise, as the number one thing they all teach those learning to market effectively is to create a mailing list. Lead by example! But to get the information they’re offering, you have to take this step. Generally that means giving out your email at the bare minimum, or your first name and email on average. This is generally accepted practice, and most people don’t mind signing up for free things if the return investment is no more than basic contact. If most people offer escape clauses (read: the unsubscribe list), then there’s little to no risk in signing up for these things.

But, signing up for these free things means getting the sales pitch, whether you want it or not.

Now, having to submit my phone number as well as name, email, and whatever else I’ve forgotten by now (I don’t have a firstborn yet, so I didn’t have to hand him/her over in exchange for “free” advice or a product) is a rare thing, and I’m legitimately surprised that anyone would actually take advantage of having my number. But that’s what I had to offer to get the free thing (I believe it was a paperback sent to my house—oh, my mailing address was something else I had to offer, yay!), so I went with it. Now I get these sales pitches to my email and phone, and I would no longer be surprised if I started getting fliers in the mail for these same products. Was it worth it?

Honestly, if the information I get in return is any good…

And that brings us to the theme of this week’s installment of the Marketing Author 001. When we’re trying to improve our education, especially when we have no prior foundation with the thing we’re trying to improve—in effect learning from scratch—then we seek out those experts who have charted the path before us in an effort to learn what works and what doesn’t so that we don’t have to make the mistakes that they made for us. It’s a bit like a child seeking advice from his parents. Hopefully, the parent has useful advice, and we share the same hope for the experts, or “gurus,” we seek out to answer our questions (in the form of free webinars and ebooks).

When we find these experts, we find free advice attached to their brand messaging, but that free advice comes with a price. In nearly every case I’ve encountered during my year of marketing research, I’ve found that the free advice is merely a taste of the premium advice that comes inside a training package that includes hours of videos that break down concepts, strategies, etc. for maximizing the knowledge housed within the concepts established in the free trainings. For example, Bryan Cohen, a copywriting expert with a stellar track record, has a course called Selling for Authors, which helps writers crack the copywriting code for better sales and marketing of their books, but he doesn’t pitch the course without providing a free webinar that breaks down how to develop the opening hook of the book’s sales page. It’s genius marketing (something I’d expect from a professional copywriter), and it upsets me time and again when I realize I can’t afford the course yet because I usually want to sign up for it. Thanks to his testimonials (something most of these experts have on their course sign-up pages), I’m inclined to believe him when he says his strategies work. I’m sure they do.

But does everyone who offers a course designed to help me, the independent writer and marketing author, have the right stuff to guide me along?

This is where the waters get murky because everyone is offering something for free in an effort to get you to buy something bigger and badder for a heftier price. It’s real easy for any of them to entice a desperate author who just wants to make a friggin’ sale. It’s also real easy to invest hundreds of dollars into a course that provides information that can be found for free if given enough time to research and experiment.

Fortunately, most if not all of the experts admit that the information they provide can be learned for free (through practice, trial and error, etc.). But the tradeoff, they insist, is whether the free money is worth the high cost of time (and the high financial cost of learning through failure) that comes with doing it all yourself. If you do your own thing long enough and calculate the time and energy you’ve spent trying to learn on your own what they offer in their courses, then you might find that they’re speaking truth.

However, the question then comes down to whether or not their advice is consistent for the average author and not just for themselves.

The person I wrote about at the top of this blog had a very successful first attempt at publishing. Most people do not. Does this mean his/her methods were a fluke? Not necessarily, but not unnecessarily, either. I won’t actually know the answer to that question without going through the process myself. But, it seems that many of the people who have gone through the process have found success, so maybe it does work. As I said, it seems like a great course, and I’m generally skeptical when anyone tries to advertise their products to me with such gusto that it makes me wonder if they’re overcompensating for something. I still remember when the distributors of the Super Mario Bros. movie, starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, began marketing on television six weeks out from release when the average movie at the time (in 1993) was waiting until about two or three weeks within release range to begin the television ads. I suspected the movie was awful because they pushed it too dang hard and started too dang early. I don’t generally trust anyone who oversaturates their product with advertising. But, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give them a chance.

The fact is, if you want free information, you’re going to have to sign up for mailing lists, and if you sign up for mailing lists, you’re going to have to start making decisions to research, accept, or deny the products they want to sell you. There will always be a sales pitch when those freebies start pouring in. Just like a hungry man at a buffet table, you’ll have to decide when you’ve had enough information that you can confidently let future sales pitches fade away. Fortunately, you can unsubscribe as soon as you get the info you want. But, I think it’s useful to keep your subscriptions open because sometimes you’ll want to receive the next free thing they give you, and if you’re really ambitious, you might even want to consider buying the product they’re trying to sell, as it may just be the thing that helps you to tip toward the realm of success.

In any case, I’ll talk more about courses in a future installment. For now, practice devouring free information in moderation. Be wary of samey advice coming from multiple sources. At some point the free info will overlap with other free info you’re getting and you’ll stop learning new things at the freebie level, and that’ll be the point when you’re ready to decide what to do the next time an offer rolls around with that sweet marketing butter sauce drizzled over it.

Next week we’ll focus on the marriage between patience and intelligence. Stay tuned.

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Know Your Platforms (The Marketing Author 001, Part 7)

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“Know Your Platforms”

What is a platform? Is it something you stand on? Something you wear on your feet to look taller? Some form of plat? Well, yes, clearly.

But it’s more than that. It’s a foundation. A display. It’s something that writers are told they must have by all marketing experts the world over if they wish to ever sell anything with their name on it.

It’s something writers usually balk at, especially if that platform is fiction.

I’m one of them. Platform? Psh. My platform is that I write. Like it!

Okay, you don’t have to like it. Nor do you have to accept platform as an unobtainable force that’s always working against you. Start with the simple ideas and complicate them only as needed. Think of platform as your key to the world.

Nonfiction writers understand this better because they usually have something important to say in order to supplement something important they have to share. For example, the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner has a platform as the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner. If he writes a book about vacuums called This Sucks, you’ll know he speaks the truth. Likewise, if the inventor of the toilet wrote a book called This Stinks, again, you’ll agree that he knows his stuff and that any book he writes about toilets will tell you all you need to know about toilets. That’s his platform. He knows when something stinks.

Fiction writers don’t have to spend as much time building an information platform because their job is to build a fiction platform. Want people to keep coming back? Want people to take your work seriously in the first place? Write fiction they want to read. Simple!

Well, not simple, because you still have to write the stuff that builds your platform. But the concept is simple. If you’re a person who writes, then your platform is as a writer. If you’re a person who writes mysteries, then your platform is as a mystery writer. If you’re a person who says he writes even though he plays video games every free minute he gets, then your platform is as a gamer. Simple.

But that’s not all that platform entails. You also have your publishing platforms.

If you write a stellar book (or stellar proposal) and want to get it traditionally published, then you must first seek representation from a literary agent (consult the Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, or visit Agent Query for help in finding the right representative), wow him or her with your amazing idea or storytelling skills, and then do all that you can not to piss him off during the submission process, which can happen if you don’t read and follow his exact instructions for submission. Then you must follow the advice I wrote about rejection and feedback, take your knocks like a man, and then giggle like a schoolgirl when somebody actually accepts your work and agrees to terms you can both benefit from (maybe have a literary lawyer on hand, just in case). Then you must go through the process all over again when that agent (assuming you like the person who accepts you enough to keep him or her) begins the submission process to the publishers. Hopefully you’ve got that manuscript finished and polished, or that proposal fully charted and ready for manuscript development, before you get to the publisher-seeking stage. Having your synopses and other helpful supplements will also be to your advantage (you can research these other supplements—I don’t need to do all the work for you). Once the agent finds a publisher who wants your manuscript or idea for a nonfiction book, prepare for the long road of making deadlines, fighting with procrastination, lying to yourself that everything is perfect, lying to yourself that everything is good enough, rewriting, marketing, pretending you like the cover the publisher’s cover artist designed, resigning yourself to allowing the publisher to market the book a specific way, even if that way means dying an early death, and crossing your fingers that the book will even go to print much less find its way onto the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, and all that for about a dollar a book in royalties (after the advance is paid off), assuming you’ve survived the gauntlet to the end.

Or, you can skip the agent entirely and self-publish it through Amazon (ebook), Smashwords (ebook/distributor), Draft 2 Digital (distributor), Apple (ebook), Barnes & Noble (ebook), Kobo (ebook), CreateSpace (print), or Ingram Spark (print), or do-it-yourself (electronic file or bulk printing) for higher royalties, no gatekeepers, and higher exposure due to handling marketing and distribution yourself, at the cost of being shunned at the brick and mortar stores (unless you sell a lot of copies and don’t mind adopting a refund policy (which only Ingram Spark allows for at the moment).

So, those are your platforms. I probably forgot a few. But you should honestly be researching this stuff by now. There’s no reason to read the seventh installment of The Marketing Author 001 without having researched the various methods you can get published or noticed first. No reason at all.

But thanks for reading anyway! You’re helping my platform!

Next week we’ll talk about salesmen. Whoo hoo!

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Feedback Is for Winners (The Marketing Author 001, Part 6)

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

“Feedback Is for Winners”

Imagine this: The envelope you’ve been waiting three months to arrive at your house is finally here. You race inside, your heart hammering, not because you’re out of shape, but because you’re terrified with anticipation. You throw all the other mail wherever—you don’t care where any of it lands—and quickly move to your coziest spot in the house, where you try to settle down, even though you can’t. You find your favorite chair, reach for that ice tea you’ve had sitting there beside your lamp since you first anticipated the letter’s arrival, take your sip, and then take your breath. Then you stare at the envelope, close your eyes, and get to work. You begin opening that envelope you’ve been waiting three months for. Your fingers twitch as they slide along the flap. The sweat dripping down to the tips is probably ruining ink inside. But you’re ready for the message it holds. You’ve waited nearly 90 days for it. It didn’t take you that long to even write the manuscript in which this letter addresses. You slip out the paper, unfold it, and open your eyes.

Then you drop the letter to your side and shake your head. Then you toss the letter in that drawer where the others live.

“Thanks for your submission, but this isn’t for us.”
-99% of literary agents you pitch your manuscript to

Well, that’s helpful, you may think in that sarcastic way you address any problem you face. You know sarcasm, that teddy bear you keep with you whenever anyone says something you find offensive, the thing you whip out to cope with stress caused by people who simply don’t understand your genius. We all know that teddy bear because we all carry around the same one. There are so many people who love to step on our dreams without giving a suitable reason that we become reliant on any teddy bear to get us through the nightmare, especially the one that makes us feel good because we think it’s making those who’ve wronged us feel bad. We like our avenging teddy bear more than our comforting bear, even if it doesn’t manage to bring back those people who gave us no helpful advice but a broken heart instead. Commiseration is therapy, up until the point that we give up on writing and become accountants because it’s easier.

But, we don’t really want to give up our dreams, so we pine for anyone who might care about our goals in life and do all they can to support us, just to wash out that sour taste of rejection from our mouths. Our cries for help lead to responses like:

“I don’t read fiction.”
-Your best friend

“I don’t read nonfiction.”
-Your other best friend

“I don’t read books.”
-Everyone else you know

Yet, we know it’s probably futile to get any help when we need it the most. We’re told that we live in a world full of readers, even though we can’t find a single one who wants to read what we’ve written. We fall back into that state of defeat, feeling worse than our protagonist feels the night the bad guy steals his girlfriend away. We poured our hearts and souls into this thing that nobody wants to leave a single comment about, positive or negative, helpful or useless. Nobody wants to give us validation, and it kills us inside.

Well, that’s because we’re asking the wrong people to help us.

First off, New York literary agents don’t know you, so they have no reason to talk to you. Don’t let them become your first line of literary feedback because you’ll be disappointed. They’re too busy sending out a couple hundred other rejection letters to authors just like you to give you any special attention. Granted, if they say anything other than “no thanks,” or really, just anything, then you probably have something special because, even though they may not have room for your work, they probably see enough potential in you to encourage you to keep going on the path you’re going, so that should be compliment enough. But you still won’t know how to improve, so it’s useless feedback.

You don’t want to ask your best friend, either, because even though your best friend cares, he or she won’t necessarily know how to give you feedback if you’re writing in a genre he or she doesn’t read in (if he’s a reader at all). If you’re writing a science fiction business book, and your friend watches a lot of reality television, he or she will probably take several months just to read through your book, and he’ll forget so much about what you’ve written that the only advice he can give you when he’s finished is that, “It’s good,” which isn’t helpful, either. That’s not even a decent ego boost. Anyone can tell you that without reading a word. They don’t even have to look you in the eye. They can be staring at their breakfast, noting how well their eggs were made that morning, and comment “it’s good.” You know they’re talking about the eggs. Don’t wait on your best friend to give you feedback. Keep searching.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why you should bother with feedback. If no one in your circle is willing to give you a serious answer, then why keep pounding at a broken drum? Well, the reason is because feedback, honest feedback, gives us an opportunity to become better writers. Feedback is that element in the writing process that alerts us to the problems that still linger in our text, even when we think we’ve addressed everything we can. Without feedback, our writing is blind. We need feedback, even if we can’t get it easily.

So, how do we get it if the people we care about won’t help us?

This is where we begin to search for online reader groups to give us those coveted responses.

Let’s look at four of them. I’ve provided links, so be sure to check them out once you’ve finished reading this article.

Wattpad

Perhaps the most popular among young adult readers, Wattpad is, in my opinion, the most sophisticatedly designed of the online writing forums, if not the hardest to get any attention for, as its popular writers suck up most of the readership. If you write anything other than young adult romance or fanfiction, you might have a difficult time making headway. But it integrates well with social media and looks really nice, and it gives you readership stats, which is helpful. It also lets you “like” each story and leave a comment below each chapter. So, even though I don’t care for it for my own works, as I don’t seem to write the kind of fiction its readers like (maybe that’s a clue that I need to start writing for new audiences), I still think it’s a good site worth visiting. You might even find your next favorite author there. You might even become someone’s next favorite author there.

FictionPress

FictionPress is an older, yet less sophisticated cousin to Wattpad (if they’re related, which I don’t think they are), in that it has similar analytics for detecting which types of readers are visiting your stories. I think the reviewer community is a little more active here, as well, based on what I’ve seen, but you’ll want to experience the differences for yourself. The design of the site is crude, but it’s functional. I also think it’s a better site for cultivating new fans, as authors here are more willing to help each other (again, based on my experience). Wattpad has the tech on its side, and I also like that Wattpad will let you use your real name (FictionPress requires a screen name, and doesn’t want your real identity seeping through—no idea why), but FictionPress has a higher likelihood for feedback, which is what this article is about, and why I prefer it to Wattpad. Both are worth trying out, but FictionPress has a wider participation rate for genres outside of young adult romance, which is also a plus.

Zoetrope

Zoetrope (part of American Zoetrope) is one of the granddaddies of the online writing forums, and one of the only forums I know of to invite artists of any genre, including and especially screenwriting, to participate. I haven’t been here in about twelve years, and I have no idea if my stories are even still on here. But a recent visit shows me that the place is greatly updated to match with today’s social media needs and I’m tempted to come back. The great things about this site are 1.) You can’t submit a story until you’ve reviewed five others, so reviews are the driving force for this site, 2.) You can submit pretty much anything here, including song lyrics, 3.) You can participate in sponsored contests, 4.) You have a shot at making into Zoetrope: All Story, a prestigious literary magazine moderated by intelligent people, and 5.) The person responsible for this site is Francis Ford Coppola, the award-winning director of the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, the latter film which now apparently has a crowdfunding campaign for a video game version. The things you learn when you explore. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this site back in the day, and I highly recommend putting it on your list of places to test, especially if you write anything other than novels.

Scribophile

I have an account here, but I confess I haven’t used it yet. Of the four sites I’ve listed, this is the only one that has a payment plan, which I’m okay with, but not eager to use at the moment. My understanding is that readers on this site are more serious about feedback than the other sites, so the pricing plan is probably justified. But, like Zoetrope, the service is fueled by reviews, which means you need to be ready to dish it out more often than you expect to take it. Last I checked, you get two free postings and unlimited opportunities to read and review other people’s works. The paid plans increase your submission limit. Again, I wouldn’t list it in this article if I didn’t think it was worth checking out, so you should definitely check it out. But I’m putting it last because it’s the only one that requires money to get the most out of it, and I’d rather show you the free sites first.

Even though each site has its own rules and methodologies, the one thing you can be sure of is that readers use them, and you want to go anywhere where readers hang out.

Now, when using these sites, it’s important to realize that there are two types of feedback, and you can use both to your advantage.

  1. Reader reviews are the more obvious forms of feedback because these will be more likely to tell you what works and what doesn’t. A good reviewer will highlight anything important (on a per chapter basis) that you should know. These same reviewers are speaking not to you, but to the community, so, while you’re learning about what’s wrong with your story, your other potential readers are learning about it, too. That can be a positive or a negative, depending on how many people are harsh reviewers, but because it’s honest feedback, it’s fine. Most of the people who read your work on these free reader sites aren’t going to remember you when they find you on Amazon sometime later, and even if they do, they’ll hopefully assume that you’ve fixed the problems that were addressed on the reader site, and won’t intentionally troll your hard work with one-star reviews. Anything’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. If you want any kind of feedback, these sites are great places to start.

Note: Readers on these free sites are a lot like readers on Amazon. They’ll consume without talking about the product or acknowledging who they are. To ensure that you get reviewers for your stories on these free sites, you’ll need to give some reviews of your own. A large percentage of authors you review will offer you a review in return as a courtesy. Some of the above sites, like Scribophile and Zoetrope require you give reviews if you expect to get any. These reader sites are very karma-centric in that way. I’d advise reviewing many other people’s works before posting your own (or post your own, and then review a bunch right away). Bank your reputation and your readership early.

  1. You may only get a handful of people to review your stories, but you’ll get plenty more to read them, if you market them well enough—even the free reader sites need some marketing love if you want to stand out among the thousands of other options that readers have. Fortunately, most (if not all) of these sites give you readership statistics, including how many have looked at your story and how many have gotten past chapter 1, 2, etc. Even if no one speaks up, you can still use these tools to get an idea on conversion rates for your story. So, if you have seven readers for Chapter 1 and no readers for Chapter 2 (which is the case for my story When Cellphones Go Crazy on FictionPress), then you know something is preventing them from moving on (my guess regarding my story is that the sections are too long). It’s not nearly as good as getting actual handwritten feedback, but it’s better than nothing.

Clearly these are geared more toward fiction writers, but you can still find online resources for getting nonfiction feedback. The most obvious place is a blog where your topic is also the central focus. You can also look for communities of people who are interested in your topic and solicit them for feedback. This is where sites like Reddit might come in handy. Reddit is pretty finicky about its social rules, but it’s a good place to research what people are interested in. If your nonfiction work answers the questions they have, then you know you’re on to something.

Now, at some point you’re going to release your book, and at some point you’re going to get reviews from your buyers (or downloaders, if your book is free). Just as I tell the college students I tutor prior to them turning in their essays, negative feedback from the instructor is still feedback. Learn from everything. If someone rates your book poorly, then learn why (don’t ask them though—there’s still a form of writer-reader etiquette you need to adopt that says never to complain about any review you’re given, at least not in public, and especially not online), then fix it, or do a better job with the next book. You can take everything you learn and apply it to your wheelhouse of knowledge. As the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but if it does kill you, you probably won’t remember it anyway. Okay, I might’ve made up that second part.

As I discussed in Part 4, rejection is probable, but don’t let it scare you out of putting your work on display. When you write in a bubble, you are only good until it pops. Ask for feedback from people who want to read, and you’ll want to find those people in the places where readers dwell. If you don’t want to sign up for an online reader site like those mentioned above (or the many that I haven’t mentioned), then maybe you can find readers at your local library. Maybe your library hosts a readers’ group. I have reservations about readers who don’t understand what makes a novel or nonfiction book work giving feedback to writers who also don’t understand how to make these things work. But, I do think that everyone knows what they like and what they don’t like, and if you’re writing in the hopes of building a readership, then it’s important to know whether you have something people want to read.

At the end of the day, feedback is for winners, not quitters. Don’t give up, even if your sarcastic teddy bear speaks the sweetest kinds of lies in your ears. It’s not worth it. You’ve got plenty to offer the world. Just get it out there.

Next week we’ll talk about platforms. Yay. Boo. Take your pick.

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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.

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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.