Wednesday, July 17, 2019

BookFunnel vs StoryOrigin vs BookSprout vs Google Forms: First Impressions

My goal with my mailing list may be different than most. I am not looking to build a readership that buys a massive amount of books on day 1. My goal with my mailing list is to give away free stuff. The hope is that people enjoy that free stuff and leave reviews. These reviews will then influence other people and algorithms to get people to buy the books. In addition, I hope that I can slowly start making some fans of my work. Up until recently, my mailing list has been unfocused. I’ve told people about new books and upcoming books… but that really didn’t lead anywhere. Instead, I am finding giving away review copies to be a strategy that should work well. To do this, I am trying out several services. Here are my first impressions of these services. I hope to also include another post in August on how this effort went. (I won’t fully know until August 5th or so)

The focus of this service is to build a book advanced reader copy (ARC) and give it away to build up the mailing list. Unfortunately, the free option doesn’t allow email capturing. The lease I could get away with is $10/month plan to see if this works. I joined and started setting things up. In truth, I was a little disappointed in the amount of promotions they have available. I had hoped that they would have more, especially since I paid my $10. However, the group I read in Reddit (r/selfpublish) raves about this service, so we’ll see how well it works.

This is just like BookFunnel, but is free as of the time of writing. I feel like this was a bit cleaner than BookFunnel and had more promotions. Not only did it have more promotions, but then you could do direct requests for newsletter swaps. My favorite part on that was that you could connect your newsletter service to StoryOrigin. This allows your newsletter to be verified (amount of subscribers, open rate, click rate). That way, when you are requesting a newsletter swap, you can ping people that are not only relevant, but have a comparable list. I have high hopes for this one, but again, we’ll see in the near future. (I just recently set this up)

This service I feel like I am doing wrong. I put everything in and set it up, but I can’t find a spot to apply for promotions. My guess is that they do all the promotions for you? I’ve tried this in the past, with limited success. However, the service is free, and the last time I tried it I got a review. This feels like a potential “good to do” but not “essential to do” type strategy. I am trying another book to see if that makes a difference. We will see how well this works.

Google Forms
The purpose of this area was to direct my mailing list to request review copies. What I learned from this is that I prefer an Excel output. I also learned that I need to be more careful in what I provide for free. I didn’t think many people would request free Kindle review copies. Instead, I ended up gifting a number of Kindle copies (which cost me money). I do enjoy how clean this method was, but I also noticed that a lot of people who clicked on the link didn’t actually fill out the form. I wonder if there is a better way to present this form to get more people interacting with it. We will get that determined again in the future.

These are my first impression with these services. I hope to gain more information in the future. Many of these services need time to “blossom”, which I hope to give to them over the next few weeks. Right now I am hopefully that one of these will be well worth it. The “plan B” right now is not looking good. I’ve advertised with NoiseTrade in the past, which really did good for me. However, they’ve had some major events recently which seem to have led the company to be in tatters. I’ve asked about marketing to them, but haven’t heard anything yet. We shall see on that as well.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Five Things Writing Journals are Missing

A recent trend in book publishing is building writing journals. The idea, as far a I understand it, is to build a journaling system that ties into an online platform. The hope is to build a skill enough where you can achieve a specific goal. Some journals focus on writing prompts while others are introspective (such as “burn after writing”). However, when I look at the preview of these journals via Amazon’s sneak peek, I can’t help but be disappointed. Usually these “books” are single questions filled with lots of free space. I don’t see charts, I don’t see a system, and I don’t see anything more than a marketing ploy. Perhaps I am missing the “system” behind many of these journals. Here are five things I think these journals are missing.

Missing Journal Feature #1: Math and Tables

This is my top compliant. It’s easier to build a product that is pure fiction then it is to build a scientifically useful product. How do you make a scientifically useful product? Include calculations and table lookups. This doesn’t have to be super complex and can even relate to a number of published psychology experiments. By building a quiz, and corresponding table, based upon a scientific article you give your writing more credence. Without this, the questions you quiz people on don’t have direct merit. One example includes children and marshmallows. The study mentioned looks into how people behave with instant gratification. If you build a quiz that outlines a quick “go here for a simple answer vs solve this for a complex answer” then you can have a table based upon gratification. If someone is closer to instant gratification, they might need different tools then someone who is willing to wait or work for results. This can then be referenced to the initial marshmallow experiment, which allows people to not only understand themselves better, but understand those around them better.

Missing Journal Feature #2: Focus

The next big problem with many writing journals is focus. A lot of authors just want to pump up word count, and I can’t really fault them for that. However, the audience wants to be heading towards a story ending, even it the subject is non-fiction. Why are they doing this? What is the purpose behind writing all these questions and answers? What do they gain at the end of this? Many writing journals only offer warm feelings of completion at the end. What if the end of the rainbow had more than feelings? What if you could get specific rewards, discounts, and resources? There has to be more of a point to writing journals than simply a feeling of completion. That’s because less than a day after completion, the book is forgotten. What’s next should always have an answer. That answer should start at the beginning of every journey and culminate at the end of the journey.

Missing Journal Feature #3: Dictionaries

Sometimes there are many answers to a question. This is where dictionaries can help. If a person can resolve a task, then dig through corresponding dictionaries or resources, that can greatly improve the quality of their experience. This can be done with a number of dictionary like entries. One of the best examples I can think of like this is “Strength finder”. This book has you solve a timed quiz that has many “no right answer” questions. By digging through these questions, the quiz shows you a number of core strengths you have. While this can sometimes feel like astrological charts, the beauty of this system is in taking the quiz once every year or every few years. By comparing your results throughout the years, patterns can start to emerge. Sure, some strengths may ebb and flow away, but some may stay with your results every year. The great thing about this book is that it then provides a dictionary of those specific strengths. Furthermore, you can see how those strengths interact with others. The point of this is that building writing journals with further areas to investigate can lead to more gain. If a fan of the journal completes the exercise, they need to have a place to further investigate.

Missing Journal Feature #4: Branching Books

If a dictionary entry is not enough to contain all the information, perhaps writing branching books is the appropriate next move. This allows the completer of the journal to have a more tailored experience. Ultimately, the better you can tailor the experience to the consumer of your work, the more they are going to get from it. Bringing value to each reader is extremely important because that’s what writing is all about. In addition, readers who experience good value will leave positive reviews and will tell others. If a reader has an impersonal, this really isn’t for me, moment… they could experience buyers regret. That could lead to negative reviews or less sales in the future. The closer you can tailor your experience to the individual reader, the better. Sometimes this is best done with writing branching books.

Missing Journal Feature #5: Feedback Loops

Finally, many writing journals are written and then left out in the rain to rust. They don’t have a method of being refreshed on a regular basis. This is extremely unfortunate, as reader feedback can be used immediately to improve the writing journal. By building a feedback loop, the author of the writing journal can make something that gets better and better over time. One of the best resources of knowledge is past success. However, most people throw this away when they don’t capture or reuse this experience. This is a massive source of waste that shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

There may be more items missing then just these five. However, I think if a writing journal had these areas, it might be worth investigating. Until someone can solve these areas, I am not sure I will spend any of my cash buying a writing journal.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Five Tips to Make Writing More Fun

Writing can be a tricky endeavor, because you may not always want to write. I think there are a number of things that can help with this effort. The hope is to make it more fun to write and more inspiring to write. Here are five tips to make writing more fun:

Tip #1: Plan your writing
Often times the worst part of writing is not knowing what you want to write. That blank screen can be intimidating. By taking some time to plan your writing, it gives you “training wheels” on starting to write. That can make things a lot easier.

Tip #2: Dig up inspiration
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to find pieces of writing, artwork, or music that inspire you. That inspiration can give you a feeling that you can then describe in your work. That feeling not only helps move the word count forward, but it can help you give some extra authenticity to your work.

Tip #3: Writing prompts
When you don’t have anything particular to write, but you still want to write, these can be very useful. They help you by tipping you into a particular topic or thought experiment. They ask the question, what if, and leave it open ended for you to resolve. That can make things a lot more fun, since you get to answer the question however you desire.

Tip #4: Use word count meters
Sometimes the best way to get words on the screen is to use a word count meter. These can not only track how much you are writing, but at what pace. That can help you force yourself to write more words and improve your craft much faster.

Tip #5: Think about what makes you happy
Sometimes the best way to build a wonderful product is to determine what makes you happy. If you like writing about funny stories, write a funny story. If you like thinking about action and how to make things move fast, write that. If you just want to write something to work out the kinks in your own head, write that. Ultimately, if you’re writing something that makes you happy, you are much more likely to write.

Bonus Tip: Dig out an app or book

Sometimes the best way to have fun writing is to look at from a new perspective. That can be done through a new writing app or reference book. Even looking up articles on writing can help. Example apps include ones that have timers and if you don’t beat the clock, you lose your writing. Example books can include reference or thesaurus books that are based on setting. These can provide a breath of fresh air or perspective to your writing, which can make it fun again. In addition, these can help bolster areas that you may dislike or not be as strong in. For example, if you aren’t good at describing scenery, then a reference book may help kick start you in the right direction. If you suffer when writing dialog, a book may make that more effective. By becoming more proficient, you can build a better attitude (and have more fun) when writing.

In summation, plan your writing and frame it with some inspiration points. If you aren’t sure what to write, use writing prompts. Use word count meters to measure your progress and really focus on what things make you happy to write. For me, writing articles like this makes me happy.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Time for 10k - Western Fantasy

I've just finished part 1 of 3 for "4 Wizards" (that will not be the official title, but I am just keeping it that way until I figure out a good title). With that complete, I've decided to write the next 10k effort. This is part of an ongoing effort to sprinkle 10k's along with the major books. These 10k's will then wrap up into a larger effort forming their own book. The idea is to make book 2 in the "Morning Motivation" series. It would be nice to have a new morning motivation book every year.

Beyond letting me practice writing in a variety of different ways, this effort helps me reset my brain. That way it's not dragging as I work through major series. This gives me a quick break while I transition from part to part of the larger books.

This 10k that I am currently working on is called Western Fantasy and is going to be an odd one. I am hoping to write it in a Western style, but incorporate some magic traces in there. I was going to work on a 10k that surrounded being put in a coma for 10,000 years... but found the test write as kind of boring. Instead, I want to write about a cross genre with some grit.

I don’t think this one will sell a bunch, but that’s okay. The point isn’t to sell a bunch, but rather to tell a lot of different tales. I want to write things which make me happy and writing this odd ball 10k stories does just that. Ultimately, that’s why I write, to make myself happy and to build fun stories. The more fun I can have with writing, the better.
In addition to writing these 10k’s, I need to think of ways to make writing fun. I don’t know if that’s flash fiction or getting into a writing group, but I need to find more ways. Beyond making a writing habit, I want to make this a fun habit.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

How to Write a Sentence

how to write a sentence
The title of this article may sound silly to most, as sentences were taught back in grade school. However, there is more to writing a quality sentence than simply reflecting knowledge that you found out at the same time as brushing your teeth. A great sentence takes the world, full of oddities, and puts logic to it. Sentences define the intention behind the logic. They show patterns and help us expand our focus.

In addition, a great sentence should be as few words as possible. The fewer the words, the easier it is to understand. That's the skill of writing a sentence. Convey logic from chaos with as few of words as possible, without losing intention.

Once a sentence is perfectly constructed, you do it again and again. That leads to a paragraph. Much like a sentence, there is an intention here as well. One paragraph leads to another, leading in and out of each intention. Soon a rhythm or outlining idea is presented. This is what people understand as writing.

There is one level (possible more?) above this: voice. Just like a regional dialog has an accent, writers develop accents in their writing. Some may convey ideas with simplicity, getting straight to the point. Others may wonder through fields of metaphors, selecting their thoughts like picking flowers in a meadow. Each of these feels different to the reader and each has their place. These differences in voice can lead to differences in sentence construction.

Friday, May 24, 2019

How to Find Yourself by Getting Lost in a Book

how to find yourself by getting lost in a book

Getting to know who you are can sometimes be an endless journey. There are many aspects that we all must go through daily. Beyond learning what to do in the moment, we all change over time. In fact, our brains are set up to change every night by dreaming. This mechanism allows us to determine courses of action without actually doing them. So what are a few methods we can dream with our eyes open? We have TV and movies, but those are incredibly descriptive and don't allow for much mental wiggle room. Here are four ways you can find yourself by getting lost in a book.

Method 1: Escape

Our daily lives can be filled with necessity. They can be so filled with this maintenance that we grow weary. The monotony isn't a bad thing, after all it allows us to sustain our existence. If we are lucky it helps us derive purpose on why we are here. On occasion though, we need to escape from this constant pressure to continue. For those cases, we enjoy escaping into life and death situations. These escapes allow us several things: relief, excitement, and wonder. The best part of the escapes is that they help our brains switch tasks. By breaking up the tasks into different chunks, it allows us better focus on the individual pieces. Our brains were not meant to be focused for every minute of the day. Instead, we need to have regular brain breaks. Reading allows us to venture into new territories and then re-focus back on the regular stuff. That's why we admire the sense of tension in an action novel, wonder in a fantasy novel, or creepiness in a horror novel. These things allow us to marvel at the art without needing to be required to make it.

Method 2: Empathy

Another common method of finding yourself by reading a book is to read a story that is far from your own. If you read a story that entails hardships you've never faced, you get a better understanding of that person. This allows our empathy to grow and allows us to build better connections with each other. Instead of thinking we know it all, we can live it all in a variety of different ways. That perspective is extremely important to growing as a well-rounded person. Beyond teaching us how to empathize, books can also be centered around eras in time. That allows us to know what it was like to live in a time period or situation that is even further from our own. Living through the ages allows us to see what threads connect each generation. Some languages and traditions transcend time, and that's where historical books shine.

Method 3: Possibility

Intelligence and research often build unique results, and those results can be in books as well. Many modern-day inventions were talked about in books before they were created. This is because books can inspire the next generation to build unique products and ideas. Sci-Fi is full of different ideas on where we could go from a technical perspective. This can be a double-sided adventure as well. Not only can these tales tell us where we could go with wonderful inventions, they tell us what could go wrong. This not only helps inspire us to build inventions, but use them correctly for the future. Using them correctly may involve building oversight structures or put in key minimizing structures. The first thought into this was Frankenstein, which then helped Asimov write about the laws of robotics. These laws then help modern robot makers by thinking of the worst case scenario with their projects. Without these initial forays into the realm of creation, these scientists would not have as much progress.

Method 4: Movement

The last method I'll discuss is that books can start ideas. Some books speak to truths that society wants to keep buried or not discussed. Once the book is out, this can resonate with an underserved population. This frequency can spread and before you know it a full movement is taking place across the country. Many books have sparked controversy and build followings because of the political or social boundaries they smashed. To Kill a Mockingbird and Atlas Shrugged are two examples of each book. In addition, controversial leaders may publish manifesto's that give people an insight into how their minds work. That allows future generations to have an unfiltered look into the center of a particular movement. Not only can they see the results of the thinking, but they can also examine it right down to the roots. This can allow them to better understand the thought and the world's consequences with those particular thoughts.

While there are many ways to lose yourself in a book, there are also many ways to find out who you are in a book. Books can teach us to better focus on our routine filled lives. Books can teach us how to be full of empathy or how to relate to the past. Books can teach us about cool inventions and the potential downsides. Books can teach us about political and social ideas; including their place in the world. Ultimately, books can teach us where we fit in this world. The only thing that needs to be done is to flip the page and continue to read on. This could be sci-fi, history, romance, fantasy, action, non-fiction, and more. The trick with this flow of information is to continue it and make yourself happy with whatever you decide to read. If you continue to enjoy what you are reading, then you know you are slowly becoming what you desire to become. That may not be a wild adventurer or some time traveling cop, but it will be a more empathetic and intelligent human. While those may appear to be soft skills, they are some of the essential skills we need to learn. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Minimal Viable Audience - Individual Connection Marketing

minimum viable audience - hummingbird

In a recent podcast with Seth Godin, one of the ideas mentioned was looking at the minimal audience needed. When people are thinking of what they can sell to make money, they are thinking that the more people that views their product the better. Therefore, they look to see advertising as an infinite source of views. This becomes a race of converting views into “funnel” travelers. At the end of the funnel is a customer who buys everything you put out.

Personal connection vs. Funnel travelers

The flip side that Seth Godin talks about is that true marketing is about personal connection. To me, that makes logical sense. In the small town I used to live in, my boss was like a celebrity. When he walked down the street, people waved, and he chatted with nearly everyone. In fact, he had to send people out to get items from the store sometimes because it would take too long for him to do.  He had a personal connection with so many people, which is the foundation of his business. He knows exactly who needs what and helps them out.

Seth Godin talked about creating raving fans that then create more fans. The idea is to focus just on the most fanatic and leave the rest to work itself out. I want to take this concept one more step forward. Instead of just creating raving fans, what is the least number of fans you need? If you want to sell two books a day, and you have 60 fantastic fans, then you are set for the first month of book sales. Great! But what about the next month’s book sales? What about some natural attrition from the list?

What is your aim as an author?

Perhaps here is a different way to look at it: What are you trying to go for as a writer? If you want people to read your book, and are not as concerned about the money, why not just go strictly for reviewers? Why do any advertising at all?

Talking one on one with reviewers and building that comradely is a unique idea. Most times authors look at reviews as a means to an end. If we get enough reviews, others will buy the book. What if we flip this and stop looking for end customers completely? What if we only looked for reviewers?
To me, this makes a lot more sense. Not only does it allow for more personal connections, but it helps build a platform. In the end, I think that this practice does something powerful. If you have a list of people you know and know you, that can lead to something Amazon can’t take away.

Better than Amazon

As an author, we know that there is a trade off between “going wide” and “going exclusive”. Going exclusive allows the author to get Amazon’s promotions and have potentially more easy revenue. However, going wide can provide an author with a revenue stream outside of Amazon. This can be important because it allows the author to adapt to the future. However, these are the two main choices, right? Well, there is a third one that few people think about “going narrow”. That is, having those close relationships with people. Amazon can’t duplicate this relationship and even if they change against you, you can pivot quickly. Furthermore, going wide can work even better because you can move people to the right fit for them. Perhaps they want to have a specific format or don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops. By building that personal relationship with them, you can figure out exactly what they need and fill it. Maybe Amazon is the best step for them? Maybe someplace else is the best place for them? Ultimately, the struggle no longer becomes what you want as an author, but rather what your audience wants individually. There is no way Amazon or anyone else can take that away.

The Money is in the List

This old saying relates to mailing lists. The idea is that a sales funnel slowly develops contacts and then you can section those most likely to buy. I would look at this from an alternative perspective. I would almost look at it from a Salesforce point of view. Instead of looking at a specific funnel, think of this as a mountain of value. You are being paid to be a Sherpa on this mountain. You don’t know where your people want to go, or how they want to go there, you are just there to provide value. In that regard, a CRM (customer relationship manager) may be a better fit than AMS (Amazon Marketing Service) ads. Think about the conversation from an AMS standpoint. You try out a sales copy, and the response is a simple: yes, no, or kinda. Is this what they are looking for? No? Let’s try that? All the while you are wasting a ton of money trying to get a clear picture. Why not skip all that and just send out an email (or call) and get an immediately answer? In addition, you can ask more detailed questions and have a wonderful conversation.

So the money is still in the list, but the truth is that the money is in the relationship building techniques. How do you provide value as an author? How can you tailor what value you build to fit their need, not your own? If you are able to hit that every time you become something other than “another marketer”. You become a resource for your readers. Your writing becomes that water in a desert that they know they can go to and get exactly what they are looking for. If it turns out that they aren’t happy, well guess what? They know the author! They can get it fixed. That gives them the power, which is ultimately, where it’s always been. No platform, no advertising, no gimmicks hold the same power that interested customers hold. Let them decide and they will reward you with more than money. They will reward you with loyalty.

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