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eBooks and Digital Publishing

How to Think Like a Successful eBook Author

June 5th, 2012 . by Peggy


Rodin's The ThinkerBecoming successful in any field often requires a shift in thinking. Here are some of the shifts that I myself experienced, and that I continue to witness in clients and other successful eBook creators.

1. Stop thinking of yourself as an Author.

Authors are amazing, creative, driven, and professional people. However, as the motivated creator of an eBook trying to crash into what might be a crowded niche, you need to shift yourself from almost all traditional thinking, and quickly.

My own fantasy of what it meant to be an Author was probably like that of many people: the Author as an introvert creative, working from behind a leather-topped desk in a quiet study, the oak-paneled walls lined with books, and a dog stretched out on a thick carpet at my feet. Occasionally, I would fetch myself a whisky from the mini-bar in the corner, or gaze out at my ocean view for inspiration. My publisher would take care of everything, and send me fat checks once a month, all because I was gifting the world with the gold that came out of my brain.

Yeah, that’s pretty far from my reality. Instead, after a rowdy morning of getting the kidlet off to school and taking something out of the freezer for dinner, I whip through Starbucks on my way to an office that I share with a crowd of marketing types. I then run down my whiteboards and address whomever is screaming the loudest. I eat lunch while typing or talking on the phone, scramble to meet deadlines, meet with new and existing clients about 3 times a week, test out new technologies or tools, write blog posts like this one, plan and execute official launch dates for ebooks or new information products, setup affiliate marketing data for the products of myself and clients, and then when that’s all done, dinner’s over and the kidlet asleep, I do a bit more market research to try to find the next niche that I can exploit to the max.

While I’m not in that luxury den, I must say that I find this much more rewarding. NO, this is NOT a life of luxury, but it is fulfilling. I love marketing. I love technology. And I especially love the freedom that I have to keep reinventing myself and my work over and over again. The reality is that successful fiction Authors (versus me as a product creator) do a lot of the same things I do, all day, every day. They might call themselves something other than an information marketer, but really, that’s what all of us are. Once our false expectations fade about the exotic life of an Author, we discover that this, being a marketer with a sort of literary bent, is actually way more fun.

2. Get into a tech groove.

Let’s face it: books mean technology. Even if you are writing for print in the most traditional sense, with a publisher and (perhaps) even an advance, you’re still in a technology-run business. There is simply no working around that. The time of Authors being lumped in with lawyers and real-estate agents for their lack of tech knowledge has passed. Content creators must now at least understand, and hopefully fully control, all aspects of their content distribution.

At the very least, all Authors must get used to the basics;

  • Writing on a computer, using appropriate word-processing software. 
  • Creating eBook content using a standard word-processor. 
  • Using social media. 
  • Blogging or creating other web content. 
  • Deploying and managing their content (and things like reviews) on popular eBook platforms like Kindle or Nook, etc.
  • Linking to places where people can buy the books, and making them easily accessible.
  • Managing a mailing list properly.

The more advanced techy types will take it to the next level;

  • Setting up a shopping cart on your website to sell books and eBooks. 
  • Formatting your own eBook uploads.
  •  Managing your own blog platform, on WordPress. 
  • Setting up things like feeds for your blog or website.
  • Tracking visitors to your blog or website, to see where your visitors are coming from.

And then there are the ones that really exploit the technology that makes money;

  • Conducting webinars or teleseminars. 
  • Using web video conferencing for lectures or virtual signings. 
  • Managing an ongoing affiliate marketing program.
  • Managing digital ad campaigns to sell books or eBooks.
  • Using podcasting to gain recognition and drive traffic.

If you know you’re stuck in the first paragraph, or less, at least know what you need to delegate to the techy types – and how to explain to them what you want.

3. Stop waiting.

The slowness of the literary industry is improving, but it is still its Achilles heel. Independent product creators must work faster in order to meet demand and build market share. In my observation over many years, the idea for a novel does not get better if it steeps for a few years. Instead, it gets neglected. It’s not just about writing every day, which is also essential, but about setting up a production schedule. This allows you to move from one completed project to the next, without losing your momentum or enthusiasm or joy for the content. In the case of non-fiction, there’s often a window of opportunity that is fleeting and small. You either grab it, or you miss it. Speed of production is the way to make money.

4. Keep producing.

If all you have in you is one novel a year, please be sure you have another job. (But don’t stop writing that one novel, either!) One product does not a company make. But, one product can a market open. What I mean by this is that you can do a lot of work to launch one product into the market, and once you open that door, you then capitalize on that by creating more products to fill the market space you have created. Once you have your spearhead product created, be sure to follow it up right away with a companion product, or a sequel, or a study guide, or a series of implementation exercises, or a new edition, or, or, etc. As the expression goes, the second eBook takes 1/10th of the work, and makes you 10 times the money.

5. Template what works.

If I were to consider selling my business, I know that the part that would be assessed for the greatest value would be my templates. I have systems up the ying/yang. Spreadsheets for processes, lists for checking off, template documents with fill-in-the-blanks, step-by-step guides for myself and for clients, pre-formatted documents for creating everything from class handouts to new eBooks, etc. etc. This is where your real value in a business lies: in its systems. This is true of almost every company. McDonald’s is nothing without its templated systems for everything from food processing and handling, to uniforms for employees, to how to scrub a toilet. Templates are what allow success to repeat. I rarely do anything more than once, because in everything I create or do, I look for a way to be able to do it again without any extra work. Yes, I have a lot of wall charts. Yes, I keep a pile of post-it notes in my bathroom magazine rack. Yes, that makes me look like a major geek. But I know that if I want to look professional, I need to save time, and templating is the only way I know to do that effectively.

The moment I let go of the unrealistic fantasy was the moment my company was born. I found real joy in offering something of value to a market that wanted it. I love sharing this with consulting clients, and watching them make the same shift and get real. No, I don’t have an ocean view (especially here in Las Vegas!) but I do have constant inspiration.

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Is your book worth the time to write?

August 26th, 2009 . by Peggy

I went to see the movie Julie & Julia this evening, partly because it was about a female blogger, and partly because it was about Julia Child, a hero of mine. But I didn’t expect to re-learn an important lesson about writing.

There’s a moment in Julie & Julia where Mrs. Child remarks something like, “It took 8 years of my life to write, and it turns out it was nothing more than something to do so that I wouldn’t have nothing to do.” She fears that writing the cookbook was not the way to reach her audience. She wants American women to know how to produce great French cuisine at home. The book is still not published, and now, she’s 8 years from where she started.

Love of food, or your business, or whatever your topic is, is not enough to write a book. The fact is, Mrs. Child’s book took so long to write because she found that the market she had anticipated in her own mind was not the one she ended up selling to in the end. Proper market research in the beginning can save not just hours, months, or possibly years of work, but also the heartache of having to de-construct something that you have spent so much time building.

Market research today is very different than it was in 1959 – you can spend an hour on Google and learn more in 30 minutes than one could learn in weeks and months in 1959. Time is an Author’s most valuable asset, and it is worth spending a bit of it up front before writing a single word of your book.

This same point is re-made at another point in this great movie, when Julie has been blogging about her passion for almost a year, with thousands of followers, commenters, newspaper articles, and of course, recipes, before she gets a call from a literary agent. In other words, her market research was in her blog. She was already proven.

And yes, the blog did get made into a movie.

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Getting Real with 37Signals

October 10th, 2008 . by Peggy

Here’s the ebook I should have written, “Getting Real” by 37Signals. This brilliant eBook is about what all of us should apply to our virtual businesses, whether they be about software or not.

For years, I’ve been preaching about “writing backwards”, and for that matter, doing all sorts of business activities backwards. Here is another company saying exactly the same thing. And they’ve done it without debt, without funding, and with only 7 people.

Working backwards means to build any product, service or business and start from the experience of the consumer. What does the customer want to see? What do they need? What is really going to work for them? And, what will they tell their friends about?

This is defined in the book as, “Getting Real starts with the interface, the real screens that people are going to use. It begins with what the customer actually experiences and builds backwards from there. This lets you get the interface right before you get the software wrong.” Sound familiar?

How many of us whined about upgrading to Windows Vista? I know I did. But what was the true problem? I know that my problem was too much. Too many clicks to get done what I wanted, too many features that I never use. Microsoft is stuck with the worst kind of problem – a massive market, so they must be all things to all people. They must design and execute features that will never be used by most people, so that they can keep the specialized applications of their product viable. But the rest of us are not burdened by this, and 37Signals states this clearly, “Getting Real delivers just what customers need and eliminates anything they don’t.”

When writing, building a product, designing a website, and almost any other business activity, we must first consider the reader, the user, and the consumer. They are who we must design for, and for their real, tested, and verified needs. We cannot design for our assumptions about the user. Talk to the user, ask them questions, and test throughout the process. This is why 37 signals will continue to thrive, building products that I use and love.

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