Tag Archives: marketing advice

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.

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.

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 Marketing Author 001

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

“Introduction”

We all aspire to become excellent at what we do, and what we do, we hope, is somehow tied into our hopes and dreams. People who aspire to build the greatest architecture in the world hope that their names will be synonymous with structures equaling the likes of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or Freedom Tower in New York, or that skyscraper in Dubai that Tom Cruise risked his life scaling for a scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the Burj Khalifa. But to reach that level, these dreaming architects must prepare themselves for greatness, and while many may want to just skip to the awesome, becoming awesome generally takes a few baby steps and a lot of planning.

As an author who aspires to become well-sustained on passive income from my novels, especially from my A Modern-day Fantasy series, which I’m still working on and will be for a while still, I can relate to this thinking, to this become-awesome-today-and-worry-about-the-details-getting-there-tomorrow idea of success. And thanks to my hubris at having great titles to share and ignorance at having a great marketing plan to get the word out, my journey out the gate has been a rocky reflection of this poor excuse for an ideology.

Fortunately, I’ve spent countless hours—amounting to weeks most likely (there’s 168 hours in a week, so, you know, math)—studying how to market, how to give my books the best foot forward and so on, and the one thing I’ve learned consistently in this journey is that everyone has an opinion about what works, what doesn’t, and that all of them say pretty much inconsistent things to the tune of a similar drumbeat.

Granted, I like these inconsistent things because it convinces me that any strategy could work, as long as it isn’t destructive in nature. Coming up with my own brilliant ideas could also be a strategy, if I had brilliant ideas to come up with. And sometimes I think I do have brilliant ideas.

But, I often cut my ideas short when I think about the cost involved or the legislation I have to deal with to ensure appropriate business. Then I tend to bury my ideas when I realize the planning involved is extensive and the dedication to consistent marketing is unrelenting. And, of course, the worst part of all marketing, the thing that puts to the death all of my good intentions, is the money needed to make it all happen. I usually don’t have anything left over after my bills are all paid each month. How am I supposed to do much with nothing?

The gurus I listen to all want to give free advice up to a point. But then they want money for their truest lessons. That, too, is a sound business model. For them. For me, as someone who’s trying to learn on the tightest of budgets, it’s a terrible business model, as the high cost of learning anything valuable makes it a challenge getting the information I need to succeed. I can generally learn something from these people’s free advice, but probably not enough. And they know that. That’s why they write books, sell premium courses, and save their best stuff for the paying customer. It’s an education, dangit!

Yet, these people know what they’re talking about. They’re marketers, and good ones at that. Their strategies, though sometimes conflicting with other strategies, work, so I’m shown in their promotional videos. I, and any writer (or inventor, game designer, etc.) who aspires for success, should listen to any and all of them and sort out the elements that work best.

But the money….

This is when I realized that for every Author 101, Author Marketing 101, Author Business 101, and so on that’s out there, there is a need for a prerequisite course to prepare us for the education and marketing ahead, a 001 if you will.

I don’t know of any that are out there, so I figure it’s time to start one if none exists (or is so obscure that no one has bothered to sell me on it in some lengthy email campaign). So, that’s what The Marketing Author 001 will aspire to do: To help pave a smooth road ahead of the drive that aspiring authors (and anyone else with a great idea) plan to take on their journeys toward greatness.

I won’t charge for this. I don’t expect there to be any video involved (I’m on a tight budget, remember?). I don’t know that it will even go beyond the first post—there may be no need for anything past my initial thoughts. I just want to share what’s on my mind regarding my rocky journey out the self-publishing gate and hopefully help aspiring anybodies to adequately prepare for the 101 instructions that flood the Internet and the marketing measures necessary to drive success.

As per my Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, I don’t know how many installments I’ll have for The Marketing Author 001 as of this introductory article, but I will have at least one starting on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 1pm EST. If more follow, I’ll update this post with links and estimated times of arrival, so bookmark this page and check back often. Or check the tabs at the top of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for an upcoming section for “Blog Series Posts,” where I’ll give easy access to any series I’ve written. (I haven’t set that section up yet, but I’ll revise this post once I do.)

Until then, remember this piece of advice: Preparation is more important than release. If you pull the trigger before setting up the target, you’ll hit the wrong thing, or hit nothing at all.

Check back here soon for Part 1 and the roster of potential future posts.

Oh, and please subscribe to my blog to receive updates. I always forget to suggest that. There’s your first free lesson: Remind your readers or customers to take action that’ll keep you relevant. The button to subscribe can be found at the bottom of this page. Just as I promised, that advice is free.

Update (3/1/17):

Just a quick programming note and content update: I’m going to experiment with a release schedule for later in the evenings, between 7 – 9pm, instead of early afternoons. I’m still trying to find the best time for connectivity with readers. The release schedule may seem screwy at first, but that’s because I want to maximize visibility, and that might require experimentation. I know; it’s the Internet, and an article release schedule shouldn’t matter, but if no one’s reading, then something’s wrong, and I want to fix it. (And I know it has nothing to do with the quality of the articles because this is golden information, people!) Also, I have a brief outline for The Marketing Author 001 series. As of now, I’ve got plans for 11 articles. Make sure you stick around and read them all. I’m sure they’ll open your eyes to things unseen.