Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What Indie Authors Should Look for from Advertisers, Marketers, and Distributors

I was recently thinking about what I want from each component of my author platform. I think this was the result of paying for Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads that didn’t come anywhere near paying off. I keep hearing that the market is “pay to play”, and that this is the gateway to play, but I simply have found walls here… not doors.

I realized that this wasn’t a pay to play situation. Instead, it was a way to drip pay for advertising research. That’s great, but not exactly what I was expecting. If I am going to pay for advertising, I want to be given access to unique ecosystems that thrive on niches. Amazon feels too combined for me on that. In addition, they have been known to have horrible stat problems (not updating correctly, incorrect information, etc). I don’t think Facebook is much better, because they make it seem like there is a lot of action around each dollar you spend, even though it’s not real action. “Having an interaction” with an ad is not just seeing it for a couple seconds while they scroll down.

I realized I don’t want advertising, but rather marketing. The official difference between the two is that marketing is preparing a product for a marketplace, while advertising is showing off a product to a marketplace. I would prefer to think of it as: build your own audience versus use someone else’s audience. I would rather focus my efforts on building my own, because then I have a deeper understanding of what that group desires. So I want to work with services that will help me build my own platform, instead of buying space on another person's platform.

In addition, any place I publish should help me with quality control and analytics. If I mess up and publish junk, it will hurt their platform. On the flip side, I want to know the results of my publishing, which is through analytics. I don’t feel like Amazon fully does that, as they have never wanted any modification of my work and have never told me much about my work in their marketplace. (You get a book rank for several categories and that’s it) Instead, I want to know exactly how well my effort is received. I want to know, for free, conversion ratios. How many people looked, what did they see, and how many decided it was a good value?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

4 Steps to Evaluating New Marketing Channels for Writing

Write every day means making time to write. That doesn’t mean making time to use marketing channels to sell the book. Herein lies the crux of the author dilemma. How do you spend the minimum amount of time marketing, so that you can instead spend the time writing?

Step 1: Define Your Goal and Timing

Let’s start with a few assumptions. Every writing journey can have different goals. If your goal is to simply have a book in your hand, then no marketing is necessary. If your goal is to sell it to just one other person, a phone call with your mother should be enough. Goals can include making enough to live off of, building a stream of royalties, getting reviews, identifying popular trends / tropes, building a fan base, etc. Identifying a specific goal helps an author move from “those all sound good” to “I have XYZ figured out, but I still need W”. After you’ve gotten a broad sense of a goal, narrow it down. How much feedback are you looking for and how fast? Are you wanting a quick burst of royalties after a marketing push? Are you okay with a slow trickle of royalties that happens more naturally? Do you want to build a book that has more ‘set and forget’ abilities? Get as specific as possible.

Step 2: Compare Apples to Apples

The focus on this step is to not anticipate that a system designed for one thing will lead to another. For example, a system designed for community building may not help with making a mailing list. On the reverse, a giveaway site designed for a mailing list may not help you identify the popular tropes in your genre. After you identify the goal, make sure you use the right fit. If you build up readership, but really want royalties, then you need to see how well those readers convert to buyers. You’ve made a specific goal in step 1, use step 2 to verify how close it comes to making that goal.

Step 3: Look at Your Toolbox and the Cost of the Tool

The aim on this step is to evaluate what you currently have, what you are doing well on, and look for gaps. Perhaps a tool doesn’t work for what you want, but it does fill a different niche in your writing life. Perhaps a social media network isn’t converting to sales, but maybe it could be used as “proof” of legitimacy. Once this is determined, look at home much work needs to be put into maintaining the tool. If you can hook up social media to your blog, and not need to babysit the platform, it might be worth keeping. If you are looking for trends/tropes, but a platform is designed for reviews, maybe it’s worth keeping because it only takes a few minutes to send out a book for reviews. If you’re looking for fans of your work but are only seeing freebie seekers – maybe it’s worth cross-promoting with another author.

Step 4: CUT! Cut! Cut

Time is precious, so having systems that “may work far in the future” or “kinda, sorta work” could be hurting more than helping. Don’t keep around a broken hammer because “you never know”. Another thing to consider is the worst case scenario. If that platform completely cuts you off, have you lost everything? Or did you build/backup enough where you wouldn’t have to start fresh? Do you own the information or does that platform? It might not be worth investing in an area that could change the rules on you later on.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Mix of Joy and Deadlines

I was recently given the reminder that I should only write for fun, never because I think it’s a chore. While that makes sense on the surface, I wanted to take a moment and deconstruct that. I think there is more to this than meets the eye.

Deadlines can lead to joy

The first component of this is that sometimes having a deadline can eventually lead to joy. Sometimes the hardest part of a project is simply jumping in. Once you are “swimming in the cold water” you get used to it and can even find it fun. However, when you look at the surface and think of the initial impact of the water, it can lead you to avoiding it all together. Life is too short to avoid building things that can lead to joy. Sometimes, having a deadline in that can be frustrating, but can lead to something you get in the rhythm of.

Inspiration can be caused by action

One thing sometimes leads to another. A spark of inspiration can cause a raging fire to occur. That’s why having a deadline can be a really good thing. Sometimes you are forced to “light the fire” of your creativity, which can cause it to burn even brighter the next time. In addition, it becomes easier and easier to light each time. That makes the deadlines feel less stressful and easier to manage. It becomes closer to habit than to herculean task.

Opportunities for growth may only occur after creation

Sometimes the only way to move forward is to already have a few steps in your past. If you are further down the road, and know what works/doesn’t work, then you may be in a good position to take advantage of an opportunity. That can be wonderful as it allows you to be more mindful of what is around you. Furthermore, you may revel in the additional opportunities presented to you, which can be a type of joy.

Past deadlines can lead to future success

Like the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree is five years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is now.” Not only does understanding what you can produce now matter but knowing what constant production can achieve is important. If you constantly achieve words and content every day, you will be better suited to create / mange content in the future.

In summation:

Deadlines can sometimes zap joy out of a creative effort, but that’s not always true. Sometimes deadlines can help get your creative juices flowing. They can help you achieve more now because you achieved more in the past. Furthermore, the more you work with deadlines, the less threatening / big they seem. I think that’s why building a routine of joy is important, and including a deadline in that routine is key.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Preparing for Writing

I’ve come to the conclusion that simply writing a bunch is not enough. However, in order to meet the goals that I want to achieve, I must write a lot of words. So there is the potential conflict. I need to write enough good things that people enjoy what I am writing. On the other hand, I need to recharge and seek out cool stuff to write. I think the trick with all of this is that it’s not static. It’s not always a 1-to-1 ratio. Some stories simply require more work than others and that requires more recharging. That’s all well and good, but I don’t know the difficulty of a story until I get into it. A story that could potentially be extremely easy to write might appear tough. On the flip side, an “easy to write” story could quickly become a nightmare if I don’t get a good handle on it from the start. So what are some things that can be done to strike the balance initially?

Decide on Method of Recharge

Some things help recharge the creative juices more than others. For me, if I have sample music to listen to, then I can rev up a lot faster. Something about listening to potential theme music makes me want to write. This is a great method but does require some pre-work ahead of time. Another method that works well for me is to find images that represent characters I am thinking about. That way, I can see that character a lot easier in my mind.

Decide on flavor

Some stories should be told in an extremely serious manner, while others need to swagger on/off the page half awake. Once you decide on the flavor of the story, you can use dictionaries of various types to pick out pre-worked pieces. For example, I have a simile and metaphor dictionary that can be used to pull out inspiration. If I want something that really brings the senses to life, I have a dictionary that helps describes how the senses may feel in that setting. On the other hand, if theme is more of the goal, than simply pulling out random goodies will not work. Instead it might take longer to match up words and sounds to get that gritty feeling or theme. I think preparing the spices of a story is always a way to make the writing easier.


This one goes without saying, but it is so much easier to hop back into writing a story when you have at least a rough structure. The characters don’t have to follow that path, but at least it gives them the first few steps. Those first steps are essential, because it is always harder to get stated writing than it is to keep writing. Furthermore, a bit of structure can tie together components of a story together. Once those are all framed together, it’s possible to step back and see a completely different thing. If you identify that, then you can make the tweaks that need to happen to get that working on all cylinders.

The End

The most important thing I’ve found when writing is to have a word count in my mind. I am sure as I learn to be a better writer, I’ll be able to jungle different types of beat counts in my head. These are emotions and happenings inside a story. Right now, I am really struggling with this one. I can only hold the end word count in my head and I focus on that. If I know I have only a few hundred more words to go, then I can come up with those words quickly. However, if I don’t quite get the sense of pacing. Perhaps that is something I can work on. Pacing and description. I can’t help but want quick action!

In summation, preparation for a story helps recharge the writing effort. There are a number of things that can be done to help on that effort. Getting samples together is my primary method. Determining what turns of phrase or cool verbiage to add is another one. Getting the structure and end in sight is another method to help keep things going. Ultimately, there is no substitute for putting your butt in a chair and typing. However, there are things that can help make that easier. One of my favorite sayings right now is “The Muse rewards action”. To me, that’s as simple as ‘the more you build, the more you want to build’.

How I Structure My Newsletter

I recently asked for feedback on what could be improved in my newsletter. I had a bit of a chuckle when I got four responses about frequency and all four were different. One person wanted once per month, another every two weeks, another person was weekly, and finally a person wanted this email twice per week. I have a feeling somewhere in the middle of all that is where I’ll rest the frequency (2-3 times per month). I think that this will ultimately rest with value. Can I bring new and good value every few weeks? I believe so. Twice a week? Nope, unless I decided to shift to releasing serials.

What’s more interesting to me is the other feedback I received, both in the reports and in replies. My reports say that offering an “instant win” contest increases the amount of clicks in the email. That’s not a huge surprise. However, it also decreased the amount of unsubscribes (by about 3x), which is a surprise. The amount of opens was about the same as average.

The replies revealed a few things: people like cute animal photos (not a surprise) and that they want to hear more about the works in progress (which is a surprise). I was trying to keep my works in progress to just a couple paragraphs, perhaps a cover reveal. It sounds like they would also like quotes and perhaps a bit more.

The final interesting fact I learned is that cross-promotion to relevant freebies doesn’t frustrate the readers. I was worried they would find this “spammy”, but if it’s in the same category and has a theme… it seems to fit. For example, if you write fantasy, and find a free eBook promotion for Halloween fantasy books in October…they want to hear about that.

Overall, I think I may need to re-evaluate my original newsletter strategy. The whole focus was on separating audiences; one with cross-promotion, another with just promoting my works. It seems I can combine both of those in a single email, which means I shouldn’t be worrying as much. I still might keep these audiences separated, so that I can control the amount of cross-promotion a bit better. I also like the idea of being able to “trial and error” twice as fast with newsletter ideas. I also like being able to ask different questions in each mailing, which helps me focus in on what people want.

The current format I want to use is:

  • Say Hello (What’s in the email)
  • Cute animal photo
  • Audio Book Review Requests
  • Instant Win Contest
  • Works in Progress
  • Relevant Cross Promotion
  • Questions for the list (reply and let me know)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Managing My Mailing List

Balancing new email subscribers with old is a good problem to have. This balance for me is because I am using MailChimp as a starting point. They allow a generous 2,000 subscribers before they start charging you. (Most other companies are around 1000 subscribers) However, I am currently gaining around 18 subscribers per day through all my various methods. That means I could fill up the entire 2000 subscribers in about 3 - 4 months, even if I started with 0.

Here is where the balance comes in. I want to continually check to make sure I have the right people and an engaged crowd. To do that, I’ve sectioned off my list into two lists. The first is a slower build with a less engaged crowd and has a singular focus: share free deals I’ve found. In exchange for these free deals, I have those places market my books, if they are a fit for their readers.

Readers that are engaged with my books go on a second list. These readers get more information on what I am writing and review copies. I also interact with this list in a more personal manner, sending individual emails out and looking for more genuine connection. Ultimately, this is my focus for my mailing lists: build up readers that connect with what I am writing.

The flip of this also needs to be considered. I am not going to keep anyone on a list they don’t gain value from. Currently I am making two “archiving” rules. If they are on both lists, remove them from them from a list. That way, each person of the 2000 is unique. Next up, I want them engaged. I measure that by how many emails of mine they’ve opened. If they’ve had the opportunity to open up 2-3 emails, but didn’t, they may not be very engaged. (I send out an email to each person about once or twice a month) That means they’ve ignored my emails for two+ months.

If I were hungry for mailing list contacts, I would send out one more unique email that was a “I show you haven’t been active. Are you sure you want to continue?” Then, if they don’t do anything with that for a few weeks, remove them. However, with a rate of 18 people coming in per day, I don’t feel like I have time to manage that extra leg of the journey. That being said, when I move above the 2000 and need to start paying… perhaps it may be worth it?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ready for a New Week

This weekend I finished up editing the beta version of two Halloween stories. The first is “Dead and in Working Order” which features mummies. The second is “Masonic Werewolves” which might need a bit more tweaking. I am hoping to have the final tweaks on this story completed in the next few days. I also just sent out the mailing list email for the month, so that will hopefully work well. The only thing I haven’t had much luck on lately is writing my main novel, but that will hopefully change this week. I am hoping to knock out three chapters of the main novel this week.

The only other downside is that my audio book bundle of Vampire Caving 1 – 3 hit a snag that I thought might happen. Apparently for every bundle you need a unique intro/conclusion. Hopefully I can get that fixed up and ran through extremely quickly. I’ll email ACX once that’s in to see if I can get any kind of rush on that. The hope is to give out Audio Codes on that September 24th. Normally it takes two weeks to go through audio review, so that’s an extremely tight timeline.

Another interesting recent change is that I’ve been using my Evernote to capture more and more random writing advice tid-bits. The hope is to build up a big reserve, then sort it into a style where it will be easily accessible. I also want to start “book reviews” in my Evernote that list what I liked/disliked about various books. The hope is to emulate the good stuff and edit out any of the bad stuff in my writing. With luck, my writing will get better and better, or at least more even. Onto a brand new week, with Halloween around the corner!

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