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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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Next-Gen Storyteller: Felicia Day

February 12th, 2010 . by Peggy

If you haven’t heard of @FeliciaDay, you’re missing out on the next Carol Burnett. She’s what I call a next-generation storyteller – and here’s why.

Of course she’s beautiful, hysterically funny, and wickedly clever, but more importantly: she understands what technology will do for her. It’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it.

Day’s Wikipedia entry reads like someone much older than her youthful 30 years. (Like, turned down acceptance to Julliard? Whoa.) A master of a number of art forms, she is an accomplished violinist, opera singer, dancer, screenwriter, actor and scholar. Her real new media fame came in 2007 when she embraced web video for her project “The Guild”, which is a web comedy available for viewing and download on a variety of web video sites, including iTunes.

But, what makes her a “next-gen storyteller”?

Two things: extension and technology. It’s not just that she has a trendy web show based on computer gaming – it’s waaaaay beyond that.

Day makes high quality and often personal connections with her audience, both real and virtual. She regularly mingles with fans at various conferences (such as ComicCon in San Deigo each year) and many live screenings and non-profit events. She understands that the story extends off the screen, however small it may be. Then, she uses all technology mediums available to her to extend this story, including a wide variety of social media outlets, and even a music video (“Do You Wanna Date My Avatar”) in which she sings and dances to a song of her own composition. (To-die-for-funny: $1.99 on iTunes.)

Check out this timeline:
- 2007: releases first season of “The Guild” loosely based on her own experiences as an avid player of online games. The primary outlet is YouTube, and it’s free. Halfway through this year, she grabs a Twitter ID and starts posting.

- 2008: At least partly thanks to exposure from The Guild, Day is cast in a variety of other parts, including the genre-defining “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” (another web comedy).* She even has a guest spot on the TV series House. She also releases Season II of The Guild, and works on another web project with her Guild co-star Sandeep Parikh, Legend of Neil. MSN makes a deal with The Guild to expand releases to XBox Live, MSN video, and Zune, and suddenly, Day is earning money from this venture.

- 2009: The third season of The Guild is released to its’ now rabid fans, and Day herself achieves one of the most coveted social media trophies: the #3 most-followed person on Twitter. (As of now, she’s somewhere around #50.) She also continues to guest star on a variety of mainstream TV shows like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.

Just three crappy years, and it appears that she’s so busy doing web video that she no longer has time to pursue work in film, which is much more risky and far less fun.

Day uses all that the web has to offer: iTunes is just the tip of the iceberg, even though for most this would be considered killer bread-and-butter distribution. The deal with MSN is freakin’ brilliant, allowing her to penetrate even deeper into the community that has supported her from the beginning: online gaming. She’s every Gamer’s dream girl.

Like Madeline Kahn and Mae West before her, she plays down her obvious beauty, and writes, directs, acts, and allows her comedic nature to help her story. She is one of those multi-talented women that has been allowed to explore her creativity – and we love her for it. She is still warmly received by her community, and often pokes fun at the roles she’s played, and any possible criticisms of ‘selling out’ (Parikh: “Where’d you get all this money? We make a web series..??!!??”) by making even more content with that community.

I have to admit, my favourite part of this story is the music video. Again, quality rules: the crossover only works because it’s actually a good song. It offers the other cast Members a chance to really strut their stuff along with Day. (Wow – check out Parikh’s backflip, and it turns out Okuda is a fantastic dancer.) Her people love her, and she loves them right back.

Can anyone replicate this recipe? Of course. If you can’t cook, ally yourself with people who can: Felicia allies herself with technology experts (even though, importantly, she has a strong grasp of the technology herself) and with other actors and creatives.

The NG Storyteller never goes it alone, but they boldly blaze the trail for those that support them.

*DHSAB is a creation of the brilliant Joss Whedon, inventor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where she has previously guest-starred), Firefly, and a string of other mainstream and web hits.

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