Writers, Your Cell Phone Is out to Get You!

[Week 20: Writer’s Block]
Photo Courtesy of clocksforseeing via Creative Commons

I thought that title would get your attention. Look, this isn’t going to be some stupid rant about how we need to return to simpler times when people walked instead of drove cars, washed their own clothes in the river and churned their own butter. Technology can be beneficial when used wisely. But whoever the genius was who decided to cram an incredibly powerful computer that fits in your palm was clearly not thinking about the welfare of writers.

I mean, seriously. We’re talking about a demographic that will use any excuse not to write. Hypochondriacs who insist they are suffering from a painful medical condition known in most English-speaking countries as writer’s block (or bloqueo de escritor to our Spanish-speaking friends). Lollygaggers who have zero problem binge-watching every television show ever created because they are “doing research.” Yeah, let’s give those guys one more thing to distract them.

The Good Old Days
Back in the day when cell phones didn’t exist, writers were more observational. How do I know this? Well, because I used to be that way. It was not uncommon for me to sit in a public place for hours, watching people. And when in conversation, I used to give the other person my undivided attention. This was normal, people! It’s how we used to conduct ourselves in a civilized society. Later when I sat down to write, I recalled character traits and dialogue I had observed. It’s what, I feel, gave my work authenticity.

Of course, this is not to say there weren’t distractions. Television, for example. But you couldn’t very well schlep around a set around with you. Sure, portable TVs did exist, but they were used mostly by smiling seniors traveling the country in high-mileage campers.

Now
Things really are different today. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. It’s as if we are more distracted than ever. I blame technology. Think about it. We can spend hours consuming content on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. And, yes, we can also get lost in Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pokémon GO. (Speaking of Netflix, check out my earlier post, “Damn You, Netflix—Another Distracted Writer.”)

Let me ask you something. When was the last time you went to a public place and watched real people interacting, rather than staring down at your phone every five seconds? I thought so. And I’m not claiming I’m any better. In fact, the main reason I decided to post this was to warn myself about the dangers of personal electronics.

So what happens when you don’t spend enough time thinking and observing? Well, you tend to rip off characters and dialogue from movies and television. Sure, you’re probably still reading but, come on. How many minutes a day do you spend looking at your phone instead of reading a book? Yeah …

Everything in Moderation
Things are only going to get worse. Cats and dogs living together. I am confident there will come a day when devices that can connect to the Internet will be embedded in our brains. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article from 2013. It’s only a matter of time. What then? Do we, as writers, just give up? Oh, and haven’t you heard? Researchers have been programming AI machines to write novels without any need for human intervention. Take a look at this. I’ve already resigned myself to the possibility that this infernal machine will land a literary agent before I do.

Okay, this is starting to go sideways. Back to my original point. The key to the whole thing, in my view, is discipline. As I stated earlier, cell phones can offer a great advantage when used properly. if I’m in a conversation with someone and one of us happens to mention a fact the other feels is inaccurate, either of us can quickly Google the topic and correct the error right there and then—though I would advise you against trying that with your spouse. Trust me.

There is a time to use your cell phone and a time to put it the hell away. I suggest you remember that during meals, at parties and when attending church. Our brains are wired to observe, and it would be a shame if we let that higher function atrophy to the point where we evolve into a bunch of dumb, drooling spectators. Kind of like those clueless characters in ‘Idiocracy.’ Consider yourself warned.

Taking Your Books to the World, One Click at a Time

[Taylor Ripp]

By Taylor Ripp

Guys, I just started using GeoRiot, and I am finding it to be a huge help for my book-marketing efforts. I’m aware that there are a number of other services out there that can localize your Amazon links, but these guys stand out for me. So I wanted to give them a chance to talk to you about the value of acting as a global marketer.

As an author, you want your works of literary art to be available to as many readers as possible. Luckily, we live in the age where the indie author has the ability to market to a global audience thanks to a little something called the Internet. However, many authors with an international following don’t realize that online storefronts like Amazon and iBooks are actually country and region specific, which means if your global readers are clicking on links to either ecosystem in order to purchase from your website or social media pages, you may be losing out on sales.

Why, you ask? If you’re not sending your readers to their native storefronts, they may be unable to finish the purchase due to language, currency, and for physical products shipping costs. For example, if a reader in Germany clicks on a link from your website to purchase your book on Amazon.com, you will be sending them to the Amazon US storefront where they will find your book, but in a foreign language and currency, and in a store where they probably don’t have an account. Those potential new fans who were about to purchase your book have been steered away due to a poor user experience. By linking users to the wrong storefront, you’ve given them a bad experience, missed out a book sale, and lost a new reader.

Before we go any further, let’s talk briefly about the world of Affiliate Marketing. If you’re not already signed up for Affiliate Programs like Amazon Associates and the iTunes Affiliate Program (for iBooks), that’s something else we highly recommend. As an affiliate, these stores will pay you commissions for any purchases made after clicking on one of your affiliated links. The cool part is even if you send your readers to buy your newest novel, and they purchase a brand new TV in the same session, you get a percentage from that TV too! Please note, however, that the Amazon Associates program is actually country-specific as well, so you’ll need to sign up for the different country’s affiliate programs separately in order to earn those commissions from around the world.

Ok, back to the issue at hand. We at GeoRiot call the geographic barriers between your readers and the item you’re promoting “The Purchasing Gap,” and now that I have you sufficiently worried, let’s talk about how to bridge it.

There are link management platforms out there (such as GeoRiot) that allow you to build a single link that automatically determines what country your readers are clicking from, directs them to their local storefront, and adds your affiliate ID. This increases the likelihood of your readers being able to purchase your books, and when they do, you earn you a commission for the sale.

In addition to solving The Purchasing Gap, a good link management platform will give you other tools to help your books conquer the world. GeoRiot allows you to set up Genius Links that allow you to configure overrides like automatically sending all clicks coming from iOS devices to purchase your eBook from iBooks, or clicks from Kindle devices to Amazon. Some even have reporting tools that allow you to more specifically cater your marketing efforts by showing you where in the world and from what devices your readers are clicking. These platforms can also allow you to create “vanity” or “shortened” links such as http://geni.us/MyBook that look much better than the long Amazon links.

Obviously, we’re biased towards our service, but if you’re not using some type of link management platform for your global marketing efforts, you’re missing out on potential sales, fans, and affiliate commissions. Using a specialized service like GeoRiot will make you a better marketer, increase your book sales, and help your chances of turning into the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

If you have any questions about The Purchasing Gap or just want to learn more about global marketing, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to help you become a better global marketer.

The Loneliness of the One-Armed Marketer

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Malone via Creative Commons
[One-Man Band]There’s a wonderful English film called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ released in 1962, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay. Yeah, so this post has nothing to do with that movie, but I was inspired by the title. The idea came to me while preparing to release the sequel to last year’s horror-thriller Tell Me When I’m Dead. And it all has to do with independent authors who don’t have enough time to market their work.

Not that I’m complaining.

Life is Good
I have been blessed with the ability to make a living. Not at writing, mind you. At least, not yet. But I do have a steady income that allows me to support my family. And that is truly something to be thankful for. When I’m not engaged in my profession or spending time with my family, though, I write. Not as fast as some, but I manage to crank out some work now and then.

And although everything is fine income-wise, you can’t just write a book, hit the publish button and move on to the next one. You have to market yourself and your work. Constantly. Otherwise no one will be able to find you in the sea of books out there—unless Oprah gets a copy somehow and offers up some free publicity. And the last time I checked, she wasn’t recommending books about zombies.

Good, Better, Best
So what’s a good way to get my name out there? Well, this website, of course. And Facebook. I created a Facebook page some time ago and I have built up a small but faithful group of followers. And I try not to pummel them with pleas to buy my book. That’s just cheesy.

I tried paying for Facebook ads, and that was a bust. It’s hard to draw a correlation between click-throughs and sales from Facebook, mainly because I don’t have access to the right analytics. But I never saw a real jump in sales when I ran my campaigns. I guess people would click through to the Amazon page, read the blurb, then bail. I tried targeting my ad appropriately, only going after people eighteen or older who like horror. Whatever …

What’s also effective is Goodreads. I have an author page over there too. I have run Goodreads campaigns in the past without a lot of success. But I did notice that I had slightly better sales than I did with Facebook. It makes sense, since Goodreads is about nothing but books.

Overall, a better approach is Twitter. And it’s free—unless you want to pay for sponsored tweets. Twitter is a great way to reach a lot of people through amplification. Here again, though, you shouldn’t only tweet things telling people why they should buy your book. You should offer up helpful links—or promote others’ books—in order to be a solid member of the community. That’s what I try to do. Have a look and see if you think I am behaving appropriately.

The best thing—the thing authors crave most—is word-of-mouth. That’s the best kind of advertising. People telling other people how good your book is and why they should buy it too. Remember Oprah? She is the empress of word-of-mouth. And people listen to her.

Did I Forget Anything?
I signed up for Pinterest, and for a while I was faithfully posting all kinds of pictures. Some people engaged with me there, but I never really saw the point of it all. My plan is to abandon Pinterest—and all the other social media sites I’ve signed up with over the years—and focus on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. What about Google+? Sure, I use it. But I don’t feel like anyone ever really reads what people post there. I know I don’t. But, hey, if that’s where you like to hang out, you can easily find me there.

It’s lonely out here, let me tell you. I wish I had an intern. Too little time and too much untapped potential. But I do the best I can. We all do.

What I Learned Finishing My Latest Book

Photo Courtesy of kr3st0 via Creative Commons
[Bilbao Cyberpunk]So where have I been the past few months? Off-world? In a way, yes. I’ve been holed up in my basement finishing the sequel to my zombie novel, Tell Me When I’m Dead. And let me tell you, there is no better feeling than typing that final word and calling it done. Much better than the funk I found myself in last November after NaNoWriMo when I only managed to bang out 25,000 words. Whew! So yesterday I sent a draft to my beta readers—whoo-hoo! After one more revision, I will send the book to my editor. By the time the cover, the editing and the formatting are complete, the book will be published in late summer—just like the last one. Cannot wait, my friends. I think I’ll celebrate by tearing into that Milky Way I’ve been saving.

So here’s the thing. Not only did I finish but I learned some lessons along the way. And I wanted to share those with you. Take them or leave them. I hope they help other writers out there.

Lesson 1—The Book Doesn’t Write Itself
Believe me, I’ve tested that theory. I have gone days without writing. When I get back to my computer, I am still at the same spot. No Microsoft Word fairy is clickety-clacking away while I watch old ‘Fringe’ episodes. This lesson is obvious to most people, but it wasn’t to me. Often, I think I fool myself. “Plenty of time,” I say. Well, guess what, there isn’t plenty of time. Time is finite, and we need to write. Also, I find that when I haven’t been writing for a while, I become irritable. Not good when you have a family.

So here’s a confession. I’ve been writing a long time and, for me, cranking out the words is hard. It’s not writer’s block, mind you. I have more ideas for books than I could ever execute on. No, it’s the actual sitting down and getting the words on paper. It takes me a long time to work things out. In reality, I am writing in my brain. I’ve covered this before—I don’t really outline. I have a general idea of where I need to go. I typically have a beginning, a middle and an end. But the twists and turns that make the story fun are what take me the longest to work out. And that takes time.

Lesson 2—Burst of Creativity Is a Myth
At least for me. It’s not the sprint to the finish line that gets the book written. It’s the slow and steady thing. Sitting down every day and writing something. Even if I haven’t worked it all out, I’ve found that if I just get on with it, sooner or later it comes together. Now, I can hear some of you chortling out there. “Well, if you had written an outline, you wouldn’t have this problem.” Guess what. I tried outlining years ago and here is what I found—I don’t stick to it. The thing seems so rote to me. When I get to actually writing scenes based on it, I find I hate it and I veer off in completely different directions. So, I might as well do that to begin with. Why waste weeks—or months—writing an outline when I could just write the damned novel?

There is a downside. Sometimes when I write forward to get to the next part of the story, I find that things have indeed taken a different turn—or have become more clear in my mind, necessitating a visit to earlier chapters where I must revise in order to match what happens later. But that’s okay. I’ll take that small inconvenience any day. Unless I’ve gone completely off the rails later in the book, I’ve found that the revisions are usually very minor and only require rewriting a paragraph or two, or adding a scene.

Lesson 3—Social Media Is a Sinkhole
There, I said it. If I had kept up with my normal schedule of blog posts and tweets, I would still be sitting here staring at my unfinished book, instead of writing this happy post. And I really felt guilty about it—at first. But somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that I must finish the book. Nothing stood in my way. Okay, let me amend that. For me, there is nothing more important than family. There are lots of stories about famous writers who had horrible home lives because of their devotion to “the craft.” I don’t roll that way. Yes, I need to write but not at the expense of my family. My girls are growing up fast, and I don’t want to be lying in some retirement home someday with a bagful of regrets.

So, there you go. I’ll leave you with one small data point. Although I was virtually absent from the social media scene, the number of people following me has grown. Go figure. This makes me wonder if people even noticed I was gone! Actually, I don’t want to think too much about that, or I will start getting self-conscious. Then I’ll bring on a monster case of writer’s block for reals.

Now, check out Jerry Seinfeld. This, folks, is the writing process.

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So You’re An Author

By Khalid Muhammad

[Khalid Muhammad]I am very pleased to welcome Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules—Never an Easy Day at the Office. In this occasional series, Khalid discusses what it means to be an indie author, responsibilities you didn’t even know you had, and tips on creating a powerful marketing presence. In this first article, Khalid covers the basics of the author platform.

So you’ve written your masterpiece – 90,000 plus words, formatted and cover designed, and you’re just getting ready to publish it to the world’s hungry eyes … when all of the sudden fear grasps you and you start to wonder, How will people know? and What if they don’t buy? Yes, we’ve all been there, whether traditional or self-published—that moment that makes us turn ghost white wondering how people are going to find out about our book. That moment when we realize that no matter what the publisher does to promote it, we will have to brand ourselves and market our books. Oh, the horror!

About a decade ago, before the social media and the Internet became like food for everyone, marketing a book would mean buying advertising space, getting on popular radio shows and begging local and regional newspapers for reviews of your book. That all changed with the digital generation, where with the right tools, you can spend very little and get huge results. That’s if you know how to use the right tools.

This new series is designed to help authors of all shapes and experience understand how to select and use the right tools to build their brand and market their books to the largest possible audience.

The Author Platform
Let’s start with the basics. There are things that you must have as an author in today’s digital world, if you even hope to achieve a modicum of success. Those things are:

  • An author website
  • A Facebook page for either your book or yourself as an author
  • A Twitter account
  • A Goodreads author account

I know, not rocket science right? Actually, it is. The four things above are essential to any author, not having any weakens your efforts and limits the access that potential readers have to your work. This is what I call the proverbial “author platform.” Each piece of the platform caters to specific groups of readers and all work closely together to deliver what we call in the marketing world a strong user experience, but I’ll go into that later.

Remember, as an author, you need to create an inviting place for potential readers to come and get to know you. You also have to take into account that the attention span of some readers has slimmed down to 30 seconds. Oh yeah, and some will want to read more about your writing before they buy your book since you’re not a recognized name. And there are hundreds of other things you must take into account about the characteristics of your potential audience than you realize that you can’t do on any single platform alone, which is why there are four parts.

The one thing that you need to focus the most on is your author website. This is the central nervous system of your entire marketing efforts. If done wrong, you will not achieve the success that you could potentially have. If done right, you will have a fantastic platform that will feed all of your other tools with content that engages and encourages readers to want to buy your book.

We will be covering each of these points in detail over the course of this series. My objective is to help you build the pieces that will showcase your work and drive traffic to sell your book. If you have questions, please do reach out to me in the comments here or via any of my social media pages, which are listed below.

[Agency Rules Cover]

eBook
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
When people talk about Khalid Muhammad, they talk about an entrepreneur who has helped others build their dreams and businesses. They talk about a teacher, who is dedicated to his students, both inside and outside the classroom, and they return the dedication tenfold. Now, they talk about the author, who has written a fast-paced, action-packed spy thriller about Pakistan, the politics, the Army and terrorism.

Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country.

You can find more information about Khalid and his novel at agencyrules.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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