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Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Published January 5, 2017 in Business , Marketing - 0 Comments
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Our Kickstarter campaign for Lyonesse not only met its goal, we very nearly doubled it. We had a plan going in, and we executed it. Still, we could have done several things better. Here’s an analysis of what we did well – and some thoughts on what we could have done better.

Use Kickstarter for Marketing – not Fundraising

First and foremost, Lyonesse’s success never relied on Kickstarter. Our business model is royalty based, not fixed fee. And our projected operational costs are extremely low (and we have some experience doing this sort of thing, so we trust those numbers). We can fund the operational costs out of pocket more or less indefinitely. That’s why we’re giving the Kickstarter proceeds almost entirely to our authors.

If our campaign had failed, we still could have launched Lyonesse. We could have launched without it altogether. We chose to run a campaign not for funding reasons but for marketing reasons – and I firmly believe that’s the true value of Kickstarter. If you have a strong enough brand – and strong enough reach – to raise huge amounts of money via a crowd funding campaign… you can probably raise that money relatively easily in other ways, too.

Our campaign was definitely successful from a marketing standpoint. First, we signed up enough subscribers to make it worthwhile. We reached a large number of people we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. We got substantial signal boost from certain quarters. People are now beginning to take the project quite seriously.

Set a Realistic Goal

It’s time for a moment of perfect candor. Although we didn’t need the money to launch the project, I would have preferred to raise even more than we did. We’re giving almost all of that money straight to our authors – and they’re fantastic authors who have written amazing stories and they deserve even more than we’ve paid them. But we did an honest assessment of our current fan base and reach and set a goal based on that. We had very high confidence that we could meet our goal.

Because we view crowd funding as a marketing tool, and not a fundraising tool, it was absolutely crucial that we meet our goal. We wanted (and still want!) the public at large to view this project as successful. But even if you don’t look at it that way, meeting your goal is important. Other crowd funding companies are different, but Kickstarter won’t pay you a single cent if you don’t meet your goal.

Warning: you must also set a goal that is enough to meet your needs. We’re lucky. Most publishing gigs these day pay absolute shit to authors. In the long run, we hope to pay them quite a bit more than this. But for now, the bar we had to clear to keep them happy was pretty low. If you’re relying on crowd funding to cover all of your startup costs, however, you’re going to need to ensure that your goal is realistic for that.

You must balance these competing issues. If your audience and reach isn’t enough for you to raise the amount you actually need for your project… it may be time to rethink it.

Get the Word Out

Get it on your social media. Tell all your friends about it. Send it to your e-mail list. Tell strangers about it. Use everything at your disposal. Marketing your campaign is absolutely critical.

We talked about our campaign on social media a lot. I talked about it on this blog a lot. Quite a few of our friends talked it up and spread the word. Chris Lansdown had me on his YouTube channel. Get the word out.

Hands down the number one problem nearly all small business owners face is that their customers don’t know they exist. And they’ll continue not knowing until you tell them.

We did OK at this. But it’s the area where we could have had the most improvement. There are several avenues of marketing that I didn’t pursue, and more that I didn’t pursue as aggressively as I could or should have. All I can say is that this is a game I’m still learning.

Do the things we didn’t do: enlist more influencers to talk about your project. Get good artwork – and lots of it – for promotion. Consider paying for ads.

Grow Your Audience First

We’ve been building our audience at Silver Empire for two years now. It’s still rather small – but it’s far larger than it was at the beginning. Two years ago we couldn’t have run this campaign successfully. But a few days ago we nearly doubled our goal. Timing is everything. Don’t be impatient. Run your campaign when you’re ready to run it.

Good luck!

I wish you the best of luck in your own crowd funding endeavors. It’s a great tool, and it opens up many possibilities. I can’t wait to see what you do with yours!

Seriously, Blogging is Your LONG Game

Published December 28, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Philosophy - 0 Comments
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I have to admit that this post from The Daytime Renegade got me down more than a bit. I read it before Christmas, but it took me some time to formulate my thoughts in reaction to it. An excerpt:

I know that if you don’t promote or believe in yourself, no one else will but my God man, over the Internet, anybody can say they’re anything! Why should you listen to anyone or swallow advice whole without thinking critically?

There are people who pass the sniff test, of course–professional athletes and trainers, business people and parents–who have a proven record of success, have clearly thought their ideas through, and show themselves, warts and all. Take them more seriously.

And maybe that’s the way forward. My problem with blogging is this: I don’t think I really have any great insights into anything.   

I’m not saying this to get sympathy, because that’s pathetic. I am just being honest and self-reflective.

I harbor no illusions about being particularly good at anything or writing useful “self-improvement” type stuff. I have a very short track record of proven success, and it seems silly writing as though I were THE MAN. 

So what’s next for my little on-line adventures?

I don’t know, but I am going to take a blogging hiatus and really think about what I want to do with this.

First of all, I’m honored and flattered to have been linked on that list as a successful business person. At least I’m good at playing one on the Internet!

However, I think Daytime Renegade is using the wrong metrics to judge himself – as so many others do. And this stems mostly from ignorance of true realities – not just of blogging but of many other factors.

I’ve posted about it before, but it bears repeating: blogging is your long game. And I do mean long. There are a handful of successful bloggers who made the leap to “stardom” very quickly: Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, James Joyner, Megan McArdle, Markos Moulitsas. Want to know what they all have in common? They got started in the early days of blogging, in the 2000-2005 time frame. Blogging was new, they were early entrants, and they managed to ride the wave.

Very nearly every blogger who made it big after that period has something else in common: they all slugged it out for a very long time. Either that, or they were already famous for something else.

A prime example is Vox Day. His two blogs this year have hit a combined traffic metric of over four million page views per month. That’s a huge amount of traffic – more than some “major” news outlets get. But he didn’t get there overnight. His blog has been around since roughly 2001. I know. I was reading it very occasionally then – mostly on the occasions that Instapundit linked to it. As I mentioned on my previous post on the topic, his prime blog now has roughly fifteen thousand individual posts on it (maybe more by now). That’s a lot of content for search engines to comb through, for people to link through, for new users to read through, etc.

By comparison, this will be post number 306 on this blog when it goes live. I’ve got a long way to go. I, too, was blogging in the roughly 2001 time frame – and I wish that I had continued that blog through to the present day. I am not as prolific a poster as Vox Day, and I probably wouldn’t have 15,000 posts. But I’d still have several orders of magnitude more content than I have now.

Quantity isn’t the only thing that time and persistence give you, however. They also help you build an audience – regular readers who continue to come back and read your works. Such a readership grows geometrically, not linearly. I’ll go into more details in another post later this week, but my blog traffic is up more than sevenfold from last year. That particular growth rate is somewhat high – but doubling or tripling blog readership year over year is the norm, not the exception. At those growth rates, readership eventually becomes quite high. Remember the old tale of the man who wanted one penny today, two tomorrow, four on the third day, eight on the fourth day, etc. On the 30th day his payment due is over $10 million – or four million page views.

There is another thing that happens over time. You set yourself apart from those who lack persistence. Very few bloggers are still blogging after one year. Even fewer are still blogging after five years. Vox Day has won because he’s still blogging after fifteen years – a feat that puts him in the company of perhaps a few hundred other bloggers worldwide. What special skill did he require to achieve that? None – only persistence.

[To be clear, I’m not claiming that persistence is the only skill that made Vox Day’s blog so popular; many other skills contributed to that feat. Rather, it is the only skill that made his post count so high. As I’ve already explained elsewhere, that does indeed have a massive impact on blog traffic.]

As Christopher Lansdown mentioned when he interviewed me earlier this week, very few highly successful people are young. Most of them don’t achieve true success until their late forties or early fifties. Why? Because success often requires many years of hard slogging, setbacks, persistence, and getting back on your feet.

Blogging is an extremely useful marketing tool. But for most people it’s not a short term one. The short term payoff is almost always low – and usually trivial or negligible. But even low payoff blogging often becomes very useful in the long run.

I would offer three more thoughts to Daytime Renegade as he reconsiders his blogging goals.

First, as with so many other things in life, blogging success follows a power law curve. My 2016 levels of blog traffic are pretty low (I’ve had considerably more traffic in the early years of blogging). Even so, they probably put me in the top 15% or so of all bloggers. At a guess, I would wager that 3,000 to 5,000 page views a month probably put you in the top 10%. 10,000 to 15,000 page views a month probably put you in the top 5%.

What’s the point? Compared to all other bloggers out there, Mr. Daytime Renegade, you are probably far more successful than you realize. In one sense that’s depressing. But in another sense, it should be inspiring. Because you, too, can at least double your blog traffic in 2017. In fact, you can probably increase it by a factor of 5 to 10 – which would move you far further up that chain. Unlike many of the bloggers you’ve already left far behind, you have not yet reached your peak – especially if you remain persistent. You can climb much further up the charts.

Second, you are overrating the value of originality and your own unique insights. You feel like none of your thoughts are new – but this is precisely because of all the time you spend reading: reading books, reading news, reading other blogs. You make the mistake of assuming that your readership is already familiar with all of the ideas you’re familiar with, because of course everyone else has read all the stuff you read. Doesn’t everybody?

In a word, no. Even other highly intelligent, highly educated people haven’t read everything you have. They can’t. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs on the Internet today. Roughly 1,000 new books are published every day on Amazon, with roughly five million already available in their Kindle catalog. Nobody can possibly read all of that, even if they’re independently wealthy and all they ever do is read. As I’ve said before, originality is overrated. To perfectly illustrate the point, even that post wasn’t original – and yet I’ve gotten direct feedback from readers who found it extremely useful and had never thought about it in those terms before.

You have knowledge of value to your readers, even if it isn’t new and insightful. Most major bloggers aren’t passing on their own major insights – they’re passing on insights they’ve read elsewhere. Occasionally they’ll ad some insight or synthesis of their own, but mostly not. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully to them. True originality and insight is rare. Fortunately, it’s also usually unnecessary.

Finally, but perhaps most relevant… I have followed you on Twitter, Gab, and other social media for months. In that time, we’ve actually interacted quite a lot – and I’ve enjoyed it. Even so, I had no idea you even had a blog until my wife pointed out this particular post to me. I am not alone.

Morgon tires of hearing me say it, but she also knows it’s true: the single largest problem, by far, with all of our small businesses right now is that too many people don’t even know we exist. It is the single biggest problem for this blog as well – and yours. Unless you have the money for a major marketing blitz a la Disney or a major party Presidential campaign, the only cure for that problem is time and persistence. Word of mouth works, and it works well… but it’s agonizingly slow.

Personally, I’m glad to see that there are new posts on your blog already, and that this post doesn’t mean you’re giving up. Here’s to 2017 and beyond, to exponential growth, and to persistence!

How I Launched an EBook to #1 on Kindle

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categorybestsellerWhen I launched “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” as a standalone eBook on Wednesday, I didn’t expect it to go all the way to #1 in its category. But I did plan out the launch ahead of time, applying all the lessons I’ve learned from previous book launches. I did expect a strong launch this time, and it didn’t disappoint!

Since many fellow authors follow this blog, today I will peel back the veil a bit. I’d like to show my friends exactly how I did it. A fellow business owner and I once mused that he and I could do the exact same marketing and it might work for one of us and not the other. Marketing is like that. Even so, hopefully you can put at least some of these tips to use.

The first thing to realize is that this successful book launch didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s been quite a long time in the making. I’ve spent the last year and a half or so helping other authors launch their own books. I’ve left reviews on quite a few books now. I made sure to put those reviews here on this blog, on Amazon, and on GoodReads. I have used social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to help boost the signal of marketing attempts for several other authors. The upshot is, when it came time to ask for a favor in return, they were ready to do it.

More on that in a minute.

The second most important thing I did was pick the proper categories on Amazon. Some categories are really tough. Others are easy. “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” is a short story, so Amazon helped me automatically her by lumping it into the “Short Reads” parent category. Pro tip: this is one of the easiest categories to reach #1 in. People don’t buy as many short stories as they do novels, so you simply don’t have to move as many units to make it to number one. Take advantage of this. It’s not cheating – it’s just knowing the game. I also used Amazon’s recommended keyword selections to ensure proper subcategory placement. That allowed me to get the story placed in a very specific subcategory, which again made it easier to rise to the top.

Category selection is absolutely critical – don’t neglect it in your book launch.

The third major thing I did was enroll it in KDP Select and set it to have a few days free, beginning the day after launch.

Why the day after? Because you can’t schedule free days until the book is actually live. Also, I picked the launch date and the free days carefully. Today is Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael and the other Archangels. Since my hero, Peter Bishop, wields the flaming sword of St. Michael the Archangel himself, this seemed like a great day to go free. But I wanted some time for buildup, so I didn’t want just one free day. I went for three – the day before, Michaelmas itself, and the day after.

Due to the way Amazon’s sales ranking works, your best bet for rising to the top of a category is to move a lot of books very close to launch day. Therefore, I scheduled the book launch to coincide with this for maximum effect. The algorithm takes sales history into account – so if you’ve got a long history of no sales and then a sudden burst, your sales rank gain is limited. But if you have no prior sales history, then the algorithm works only with the sudden burst. Boom, you get a great ranking.

Get your friends to help – but make it easy for them!

Remember earlier when I said that I had a lot of author friends who were happy to help? I made use of them – and many of my other friends, too. I also made it super easy for them to help.  All I asked for was two very small favors. First – and easiest – I asked them to drop by Amazon yesterday morning and pick up a copy of the book. Remember, though, that I’d already made it free. So I’d asked my friends to please pick up a FREE COPY of my book. Hard, right? I got a huge response from all of them, and it really helped.

Don’t think for a minute, though, that that accounts for all of the units moved. It doesn’t. It’s not even a quarter of yesterday’s units – and none of today’s. They helped boost it up the ranks and get seen. My other marketing work, took over from there. But I digress.

The second favor I asked for was reviews – and I made this one easy, too. I asked those who had already read the story to please take a moment to leave an Amazon review of it. This particular story had already been published before in the anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, and many of my friends had read it. Now, getting reviews from people – even friends – is like pulling teeth. (Yes, this might be a not-so-subtle hint to my friends who have not yet left reviews on any of my works!) I knew I wouldn’t get many – but I did get a small handful. Thank you so much to those who did leave reviews – I love you for it!

Announce it everywhere!

I blasted the announcement all over social media. My Twitter feed, in particular, had a lot more “marketing tweets” in it than I usually like to go for. But I wanted the word out, and it worked.

But the catch here is that I’ve spent all summer carefully building my Twitter audience. I definitely could have done better with an even wider reach, but I have enough of a following now to make an impact – especially when I’m giving something away for free! Also, I’ve spent the summer building relationships on Twitter. So I had several friends retweeting me throughout the day. Some of those friends have much bigger audiences than I do. To each and every one of you who gave me a signal boost yesterday, thank you!

Last but not least, I made use of the Amazon Giveaway in a way I never had before. This time, I made a giveaway for Make Death Proud to Take Us, which also included the short story “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” But in the message for those who didn’t win, I left a note and a link to the free version of the story. I set the giveaway to make people follow me on Twitter… but my goal wasn’t Twitter followers at all. I wanted people to pick up the free story.

How well did that work? I’d estimate that about 1 in 15 to 1 in 20 giveaway entrants went on to pick up the free story. Frankly, a lot of giveaway entrants aren’t interested in your books at all. They just enter every giveaway they see. So the percentage wasn’t huge, but it was enough to help move a few more copies.

Aftermath

I’ll give a more detailed report on the aftermath after there’s been some. The best I can say today is that copies are still moving, albeit at a far lower rate than yesterday. I didn’t hold the number one slot for very long – the current occupant is tenacious. But I’ve sat at number 2 for almost 24 hours now (barring the brief stint at #1). The story has also held on well at #6 in its secondary category, and is still within the top 100 in at least two other categories. That’s going to continue to bring it a lot of visibility it wouldn’t otherwise have had.

If you don’t have a copy yet, stop by Amazon and pick one up. If you did pick it up, read it. I think it’s the best work I’ve yet published. And if you’ve read it, please do leave it an honest review on Amazon. Amazon reviews are the lifeblood of independent authors – help a friend out! Even something as simple as, “I liked it – 5 stars!” is a major boost.

If you liked it, you can find the second Peter Bishop story in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. That one gets much deeper into the actual world of Peter Bishop. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for my upcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. It’s not technically part of the Tales of Peter Bishop series, but he does guest star in it… and it also happens to contain his origin story. I’m also nearly finished with the next Peter Bishop short story, “Dinner Party.” Imagine Peter – a good Catholic boy – meeting his fiance’s very Baptist parents. Keep in mind that until now, Faith has been a very bad Baptist girl. Hilarity ensues. Plus, there’s a werewolf.

Paid Advertising on Social Media

Published September 22, 2016 in Business , Marketing , Social Media - 0 Comments
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social-media-management-1Paid advertising on social media is a tricky beast.

OK, let’s just be blunt – for the purposes of this post, “social media” means Facebook and Twitter. And let’s be even more blunt – don’t even bother with paid advertising on Twitter. Save your money, flush it down the drain, or – if you really must do something with it – send it my way. It’ll do you more good. At least I will say something nice about you for it!

I’ve worked with paid tweets on Twitter over three businesses now. It’s not so much that the results have been poor. It’s that the results have been nonexistent. That’s right: zero, zilch, nada – not a damn thing. Morgon and I experimented a fair amount with them and nothing worked at all.

With that said… I do think that someone with a larger Twitter following could see something from it. Even then, however, I suspect that the ROI would be atrocious. The short answer with Twitter is simple. Don’t waste your money.

Paid advertising on Facebook, on the other hand, has provided results. The ROI is not fantastic, but it’s been better than some other advertising we’ve done. The thing about Facebook’s paid advertising, however, is that you have to be smart about how you use it.

The main reason I think Facebook is more successful than Twitter on this front is because Facebook gives you – the user – far more control. Facebook actually gives you a lot of options. Too many options, in some ways. But what really makes it usable is the controls they give you for ad targeting. Specifically, Facebook gives you three kinds of control that Twitter simply doesn’t.

First, Facebook lets you target ads locally – not just locally, but hyper-locally. I can target ads to a country, state, or city. Nice, right? Or I can target one particular zip code. Or I can even give it a specific address and a radius around that address. For a local business this is phenomenal. I’ve seen research that shows that, on average, 80% of martial arts students pick a dojo within 3 miles of their home. So when I advertise my dojo on Facebook, I target that advertising to a three mile radius of the actual facility. It means I’m not wasting money on ads hitting people a continent away who would never possibly become students anyway. Hyper-local advertising is great.

Second, Facebook lets me specifically target ads to people who have already liked my page. Bonus: it gives me access to a secondary target group: people who are friends with people who have liked my page. This works great for boosted posts on Facebook. Fans of the page like the post early. Then their friends see it in their feed – and Facebook shows them that their friends have already liked the post and/or the page. It does this by name – you get a nice little marker “Russell Newquist and 8 others liked this post.” Preselection is extremely useful in marketing.

Third, Facebook has a lot of information about its users – and it lets you use that in ad targeting. For example, if I’m advertising a youth martial arts class, I can specifically target that ad to Facebook users who are parents. You can target ads in many other ways as well: age, gender, relationship status, language. I’ve had less luck targeting people by “interests,” but the feature is there.

These are just a few ways that I’ve used Facebook’s paid advertising successfully. There’s a lot there to work with – and someone smarter than me can probably make better use of it. I’ve also found that I get far better results for my dojo than I get for my books. However, I suspect that much of that comes from not having yet figured out how to maximize the available features for book sales.

Twitter has some middling location targeting features, and some middling user targeting features. But in the end, it has nothing like this. One partial reason is because Twitter simply doesn’t have this kind of information on its users in the same way that Facebook does. But another reason is that they’re not using what they have anywhere near as well. Is it any wonder Twitter’s stock price continues tanking?

That’s Where The Money Is

Published June 27, 2016 in Business , Culture , Economics , Politics - 0 Comments
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I sparked off an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday when I made a wisecrack about Apple withdrawing from the Republican National Convention. Specifically, one of my friends wondered why Apple was involved in the first place. I found the question itself to be shocking.

Why was Apple involved in a political party’s convention? For the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: Washington is where the money is.

Another friend of mine jumped into the fray defending Apple, with the following factoid:

To which I can only respond… so what?

For the record, I have not bothered to fact check these numbers. I know Michael well in real life, and I strongly suspect that he has a good source. Even so, the reality is that this is irrelevant.

First of all, that still means Apple spent over $4 million dollars on direct lobbying. That’s not a trivial sum. Even a company the size of Apple doesn’t throw that kind of money around without expecting a return.

Second, the fact that Apple is spending less than Google could mean that it’s getting a better return on the dollars it is spending. Or it could mean that it’s found that it’s not getting a great return, so it spends in other areas.

Third, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison (forgive the unintentional pun). Google has several products that it sells directly to government customers and/or government contractors: Google Maps Servers (recently discontinued, but I know firsthand that government was one of their big users), GMail and related apps (Google went to a lot of effort and expense to get GMail approved for use by government contractors) and more. They’ve also been the target of real and threatened anti-trust lawsuits. Apple, on the other hand, sells boutique products – high end devices at premium prices. That’s the exact opposite of the government’s typical spending patterns. In short, Google has more reason for direct lobbying than Apple does.

Fourth, never forget that direct lobbying is only part of the story. All of the major tech companies have been playing roles in the conventions of both political parties for the last several cycles, and those roles have been getting larger. Why? Because we live in the digital age, and conventions need tech to operate. Providing wi-fi for thousands of people is a logistical nightmare. Streaming video of all of the important speeches is a big deal. Getting an app together for convention goers is expected these days. And that’s just the big stuff. Some of those services are donated and classified as political contributions. Some of those services are paid contracting services. This is, after all, part of what these tech companies do. Providing these services as a paid contractor is influential all by itself, even if you haven’t offered any discounts.

Fifth, Apple is a highly unusual company. But it’s a highly unusual company that’s in the process of becoming a rather typical big company. The Apple of today is already not the same company that it was under Steve Jobs. Expect that change to become more pronounced over the next decade. That’s exactly what happened to Microsoft after Bill Gates stepped down, and I don’t know anybody who would argue that Jobs was less directly influential on his company than Gates was.

This last comparison is even more apt than it at first seems. Microsoft spent very little money on lobbying – very little… until the late 1990s. What changed? In 1998 Microsoft was hit with a massive anti-trust lawsuit. But it didn’t come out of the blue. Everybody had known it was coming for a few years before that. Bill Gates later expressed regret that he resisted spending money on lobbying in the early days of Microsoft’s history.

The simple fact of the matter is that Washington controls a tremendous amount of money. Government in the US collects 26% of GDP in tax revenue. Granted, that includes state and local governments. But the federal government’s $4 trillion budget is the lion’s share of it. That’s a hell of a lot of money. If you’re a major corporation like Microsoft, Google, or Apple, and you’re not making the effort to get at least some piece of that pie, you’re missing out. But that’s only part of the story. Government regulation plays a huge role in the economics of major companies: trade rules, tariffs, taxes, labor laws, environmental regulations, intellectual property rules, finance law – all of these things and more effect the bottom line of big companies. A small regulation change in any of these areas can literally cost – or save – a company like Apple millions of dollars. You’d better believe that they have their fingers in that pie.

apple_rncThis isn’t a diatribe against Apple. They’re not doing anything differently than any other huge corporation. But it is a simple reality: big government and big corporations feed and nourish each other by necessity. You cannot have one without the other.

But to finish with the thought that kicked off the whole discussion: don’t let yourself think for a minute that Apple gives a damn about gay rights or any other rights. If it did, then it would stop doing business with countries like Saudi Arabia that kill gay people – not just states that say you don’t have to bake them a wedding cake. Why does Apple do business with Saudi Arabia? Because it’s profitable. Why did it pull out of the RNC and stop doing business with South Carolina? Because that’s good PR for its core customer base: upper middle class coastal elites.

Like all big corporations, Apple doesn’t give a damn about your values or mine. It only cares about one value: the almighty dollar.

Amazon Giveaway Follow-Up

Published June 14, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast week I ran an Amazon giveaway and reported on my initial results. Here’s a bit more of an in-depth analysis a week later. First, a brief look at what happened overnight:

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

Good results, right? Yes – and I’m definitely glad I did it. However, the rest of the week didn’t live up to that first rush.

I scheduled the giveaway for 3 books, with a 1-in-100 chance of winning. That should have netted between 200 and 300 followers – and it did. My follower count went from the 436 followers noted above to a peak of 702 followers over the weekend. However…

The first two books went quickly, with 195 followers literally overnight. That was great. But it took another five days to finish the giveaway and award the third book, and also to hit that peak.

What does this tell us? Does that mean this is a one time deal? I don’t think so. I think it tells us two things.

First, a large portion of that gain in followers likely came from people who already followed me retweeting it. In other words, it was friends of friends. This is good and bad. Many of those followers are likely to stay, which is good. On the other hand, that resource is probably tapped out for the near future – until I gain significantly more new followers, or manage to convert a large portion of this batch of new followers into actual “fans.”

Second, as small as it was this singular giveaway probably saturated the market. That means that running one every day or even every week is going to hit diminishing returns very quickly. My guess is that the sweet spot will be running one once a month or even once a quarter. I think that once a month might work OK if you’re giving away multiple products and can cycle through them. Once a quarter would work a lot better if you only have one product. Even with multiple products, once a month might be too often. I plan to experiment further to nail this down. Either way, I don’t expect to pull of overnight 44% growth again. I believe that getting that kind of growth was largely a function of having such a low follower count to begin with.

So far I’ve maintained an overwhelming majority of those followers – but they have started to trickle off. I’m down into the low 690s now, so I’ve lost about 10 followers of the 266 I gained during this event (about 4% of them). I expect to drop more over the rest of the month, although it might be hard to tell as they trickle away and I continue to gain new followers on a day-to-day basis. I expected to lose many of these followers, and 4% after one week isn’t bad at all. It’s actually far better retention than I’d expected.

The units that I paid for did count as actual sales. They showed up on my KDP sales dashboard, and they did effect sales rank on Amazon. However, this effect was diminished due to the length of time it took for the contest to end. All three sales showed up at once at the very end of the giveaway. Had they shown up at the beginning – when sales were already good from our launch – they might have propelled the book into the top 20 for its category. As it was, they didn’t even push the book back into the top 100.

Given this, and the way Amazon’s sales rank algorithm works, I think the best use of this kind of giveaway is during a product launch. Experiment beforehand and get a good idea of the right way to setup your giveaway to ensure that it ends early and the sales show up in your launch ranking, helping to propel you to a better slot as part of your launch. But realize that if you try to game the system by buying a particularly good sales rank, you’ll probably have to buy far more copies than you’ll sell as a result. In other words, the value of this is likely to be limited.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that you have a good number of reviews up early. If we’d had more reviews up when the giveaway happened, I think we’d have had far more success with it.

The final verdict is that this is an immensely useful tool when used properly. But don’t let my click-bait headline from the last post fool you – it’s not going to cure all of your sales woes, at least not on its own.

Every Social Media Platform Is Different. Treat Them That Way

Published June 10, 2016 in Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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social-media-management-1Every social media platform is different. If you want to maximize your use of social media to promote your business or brand, you need to treat them differently. Understand the ecosystem on each platform – and also learn to understand the quirks and subtleties.

My first forays into social media came when I was opening my dojo, and I totally missed the boat on this point. I got my hands on social media automation tools and tried to use them to send the exact same content to multiple platforms. That didn’t work out very well. Over time I learned what made each platform unique by focusing on one at a time until I felt like I had a handle on it. Here are a few tips for how to deal with different platforms differently.

Don’t over-automate it. Facebook has tools that can auto-share your Facebook posts to Twitter. Twitter has similar tools that can share your tweets back to Facebook. I recommend skipping them. It seems like a great plan – write your social media content once and then you’re done! But they’re not friendly to your followers. Facebook’s “share to Twitter” feature basically ends up Tweeting something like, “look at my Facebook post!” Well, your Twitter followers don’t want to. They’re on Twitter. They don’t want to switch to an entirely different platform to see your content. The reverse option is not as bad. But I still recommend tailoring your content to each platform individually.

Facebook is more personal and intimate. Facebook is all about “friends.” Most Facebook users aren’t following a thousand celebrities. The people on their “friends” lists are mostly people they have some sort of actual relationship with. This is a side-effect of Facebook requiring the “friend” designation to be two-way: both users must approve it, and it opens up both users to see each others’ feeds. As a result, the relationships between users are generally high trust and close. This in turn amplifies the “pre-selection effect” – ie, the effect that when one person says something is good, his friends think it must be good because he said so. This is a tremendous help for my dojo, which is a very personal business that cultivates personal relationships. Most students like it when I share stuff about their achievements, such as belt test photos and the like. Also, their friends see that and think, “hey, that looks cool.” It’s better than any advertisements I’ve ever paid for.

Facebook is also more local than most social media. It’s not hyper-local. People have lots of friends all over the country, and even the world. But the bidirectional nature of Facebook relationships keeps it more local than many other social media. This again makes it great for my dojo. But it’s less effective (though not ineffective by any means!) for national or global branding and promotion.

Twitter is much less personal. The one-way nature of following people means that there are quite a few people who follow brands, celebrities, artists, companies… you name it. It’s also heavy on the “news” content (I use the term lightly; “gossip” is often more accurate). That makes it great for pushing out info about your brand.

Twitter is very fast paced. Twitter is all about the “now.” Instant updates, very current events. A lot of people use it for news these days, and very often you’ll find news there that’s far more up to date than any other source. You have to keep up. One or two posts a day can be plenty on Facebook. On Twitter, nobody will even notice you if you’re that infrequent.

Google Plus is kind of a weird hybrid of the two. It’s the far smaller social network, and it lives in its own world. It’s got some of the intimacy of Facebook (though not as much) and some of the globalism of Twitter.

Instagram is all about the visuals. Nobody even cares about anything that’s not a picture. That makes it awesome for certain kinds of businesses and almost useless for others.

LinkedIn is all about professional connections. It’s a great way to network with other professionals in your field. If you’re in business-to-business sales, it’s probably useful for marketing. Outside of that, I have yet to find a good use for it.

This list is hardly exhaustive, of course. The trick is to know your platform, and to know how it applies to your brand.

Where I Find Time to Blog

Published June 7, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Writing - 0 Comments
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timeSomebody asked me recently where I find the time to blog. Actually, people ask me quite often where I find the time to do a lot of the things I do. I usually answer with something snarky because most people don’t actually want to hear the real answers. The question isn’t actually a question, it’s an emotional expression – of what I’m not quite sure. But on the off chance that one or two of my readers actually care (occasionally someone does), here are the real answers. To help, each one is preceded by one of the snarky answers that I give.

Sleep is for the weak. I honestly probably don’t sleep enough. I average six to seven hours of sleep a night. But this isn’t because I’m busy – it’s because I can’t sleep. I’ve had trouble with sleep for as long as I can remember. I can definitively recall having trouble getting to sleep as young as seven years old. Before that I can’t remember. But my six year old son has the same kinds of trouble sleeping that I do, and he has for years. I strongly suspect that I’ve had trouble for just as long. I sleep better now than I ever have before. A combination of better eating, exercise, and nightly melatonin supplements has made a world of difference. But I still don’t sleep more than seven hours most night. Exception: occasionally it catches up with me and I sleep for extended periods. Exception 2: about once or twice a year I have bouts of insomnia where I can’t sleep more than two hours a night for three to five days in a row. These have become less frequent since I started taking nightly melatonin.

If I don’t stay busy I get bored. This is actually true as stated and not just snark. My mind does not shut down, ever, except in two circumstances: when I finally manage to fall asleep or when I’m exercising with extreme intensity. Neither of those circumstances guarantees it, either. Those are just the only times it actually happens. I might as well put it to use. But that’s not the real truth. The real truth is that if I don’t stay busy I get depressed. And that’s far worse. Human beings are not meant to be idle. Most depressed people would be better served by six weeks of boot-camp style intensity than by medication. I know you feel tired, but that’s not because of too little rest: it’s because of too much. Get off your butt and do something real.

I don’t watch much TV. This is another one that’s generally true. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. I struggled to figure out where they find time for that; then I remember that 41% of the adult population doesn’t work… and what else are they going to do all day? But I digress. I watch an average of four hours of television a week – and that only during the prime TV season. And that’s actually high for me this year, and it’s all because of the DC TV Universe. More generally: I don’t do a lot of other things that people like to do for fun. I write blog posts and troll Twitter instead.

There are some other answers, too, beyond the snark.

I spend far less time on this than you might think. My average blog post is less than 1000 words. Many are less than 500. I rarely edit them. I never proofread them. I seldom even read them through when I’m finished. Half the time I know what I’m going to write before I start it. The typical post takes me about 10-15 minutes to write – tops. It’s a blog for crying out loud. If it takes you more time than that, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I have the occasional word vomit – like my series on converting to Catholicism. On the other hand, I wrote that entire series five years ago. Which leads me to my next point.

I recycle content whenever I can. Like this morning’s post, which was literally copied and pasted from my newest book and then reformatted. Or the aforementioned series on Catholicism. Or my series on Orbital Mechanics, which has been submitted to another publisher for possible inclusion in an upcoming anthology (no word back yet; we’ll see). Or submitting “The Fourth Fleet” for re-publication in There Will Be War: Volume X. I like to get the most I possibly can out of everything that I do.

You find the time to do what you prioritize. This is the biggest issue, and it’s the one that people don’t want to hear. We all have the same twenty-four hours a day. The things you do and the things you don’t do with that time are your choice. I’m not criticizing you for it, either. But if you’re not finding time to blog, or run a dojo, or start a publishing company, or edit an anthology, or write a novel, or whatever it is that you haven’t gotten done… at the end of the day it’s because you don’t want it badly enough. That’s fine if it’s your honest choice. We can’t do everything. I’m not going to be a filmmaker or an award winning cake decorator or an artist. I haven’t dedicated the time to those. What are you dedicating your time to?

How I Increased My Twitter Followers By 44% Overnight

Published June 6, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast night I decided to run an experiment as part of the book launch for Between the Wall and the Fire. I tried out Amazon’s “product giveaway” promotional tool. The tool has some nice features. You can give away very nearly any item in the store and use that for promotional purposes. It lets you pick the way that prizes are awarded and how many to award. And it gives you four nice options for how to use the contest to promote whatever it is you’re promoting.

Obviously, in this case, I chose to give away Between the Wall and the Fire. Amazon will let you give away almost all physical products. Ebooks are now eligible as well. It looks like most other digital products are not eligible at this time.

Amazon offers three variants of the contest. First is the “random” type. You select the number of prices to give away and the odds of winning. I gave away three eBooks and selected a “1 in 100” chance of winning. Amazon doesn’t give details of their algorithm, but it seems like this works by giving each entrant a 1% chance of winning. Once all prizes are given away, the giveaway ends. As you can see, this doesn’t guarantee any given number of entrants. They also offer the “lucky number” version. I could have selected this and enforced that every 100th entrant would win. That would have guaranteed me 300 entrants. Finally, they have the “first come, first serve” model. I could have had the first three people win. In my case, that wouldn’t have done much for me.

Amazon actually gives you five ways to let people enter, but one is of minimal utility. The first is to require entrants to “follow” your author page on Amazon. This has some nice benefits. The biggest is that Amazon e-mails your followers every time you put out a new book. I’ll be using this option in the future, but this time I skipped it and opted for the second option: require entrants to follow a Twitter account. I could also have chosen to have them watch a video, either through YouTube or Amazon. Finally, I could have opted to have no extra requirements, but that wouldn’t have been particularly useful.

There’s one big downside to Amazon product giveaways: you have to pay full price for everything you giveaway – even if it’s your own book. Thankfully, Between the Wall and the Fire is only $2.99 right now, so I only spent about $9.00. Also, I believe that each of these counts as a regular sale of the product, so we should get the 70% royalty rate on that, making the effective cost about $2.97.

When I’m experimenting, I like to keep it cheap!

So, how well did it work?

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

What about the long term effects? I don’t know yet. I do know that the extra sales have helped push us into the top 100 for our category, and that will probably have some good effects for at least the next few days. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the new Twitter followers will unfollow me by the end of the month. But I also think that I’ll keep some portion of them as long term followers.

A few downsides: contest entries slowed way down after the first two hours. The first two books were already awarded before I went to bed last night. As of this writing, the third still hasn’t been. I have no idea how long it will take for it to go.

For the tiny price I paid, however, this has been an unqualified success. It’s definitely a tool that I’ll be using again.

Choosing a Niche for Your Blog

Published June 1, 2016 in Blogging , Business - 0 Comments
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niche-researchA while back I mentioned that you should seriously ask yourself if your blog even needs a niche at all. I stand by that. But let’s suppose that you have decided that you need a niche, for whatever reason. How do you pick one?

First of all, if your niche isn’t obvious then you need to go back to step one and seriously consider a general blog again. Having a niche that’s obvious to you is one of the best indicators that a niche actually is the right thing for your blog. It’s not the only one, but it’s the strongest. Of course, if your niche is obvious then you don’t need this post at all. So if you’re looking for a niche, here are some factors you should consider.

Your topic should be something that you really know something about. If you’re a world-class expert in something then this is pretty obvious. But most of us aren’t world class experts. That’s ok. Your readers won’t be, either. The important thing is that you can provide them with new and useful information that they don’t have. So it’s good for it to be something you are actually well versed in.

Another option, though, is to pick something that you want to be an expert in and use your blog as an opportunity to study it. That’s how my last niche blog started off, and it worked pretty well – both as a blog and as a learning tool.

Your topic should be something that’s underserved. Even on today’s saturated internet, these topics still exist. This doesn’t have to mean that there aren’t any blogs on the subject. It doesn’t even mean you have to be the best blog on the subject. But there should be relatively few of them. The main benefit of having a niche is to dominate search engine traffic for keywords related to your topic. With a well selected topic and good SEO you very likely can actually monopolize certain keyword combinations. By extension, if there are already a thousand blogs out there on that subject, don’t bother. Pick something else or go general.

Also, if your niche is too specific then even monopolizing those keywords won’t bring you enough traffic to be worth it. For example, I currently dominate Google search results for my own name. All but one of the first page results go to pages or profiles that I control. The second page is almost as good. Anybody searching my name is going to find me, and that’s intentional. But nobody’s actually searching much for my name as of yet, so it doesn’t bring me a lot of traffic. My dojo, on the other hand, does better. I’ve done very well with SEO there, and anybody searching within the right geographical area is very likely to come across my site first or second on the list. That does a lot better for bringing me traffic, and it’s very targeted traffic so it’s helpful.

Speaking of which, if you’re selling something then your niche should be closely related to what you’re selling. The one thing that would help me more than anything for actually selling stuff would be to blog more about the martial arts. I’ve seen a few good blogs that do it. I actually run a separate blog for my dojo, and I’ll have occasional posts here about that. But I already spend a lot of time teaching that and it’s very difficult for me to keep motivated writing out the same information over and over again. My dojo blog is seldom updated as a result, and I just can’t keep motivated to do it. I do far better here. The successful martial arts blogs that I’ve seen tend very strongly toward repeating the same information over and over. I’m not criticizing them – I get why they do it. All niche blogs eventually do, or else they die. But that’s just not my thing.

In summary, we have three criteria we should be looking for:

  1. A topic you either are or want to become an expert on.
  2. An underserved topic where there’s little competition.
  3. Something closely related to what you’re selling.

If you can’t meet at least one of these criteria, don’t even bother with a niche blog. It won’t help you. If you want to get good results, you really want at least two. As for myself, I probably wouldn’t do another niche blog unless I could meet all three. I’d need to see that kind of benefit to overcome what I view as the tedium of exhausting one topic. Not everyone views that as a burden, though, so maybe a niche blog is right for you.

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