author platform

Wrangling Your Author Platform

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma. The more immersed I get in doing a high volume of high-quality, interesting work, the more I totally forget to come up for air and share the latest news with anyone else who might be interested.

I’ll look up and three weeks went by and not a peep from me. And I’ll realize I should make a blog post or a friendly note to my mailing list or…you know, a Facebook post or something.

I feel like I’m alone in this—I mean, who has to make a discipline of Facebook in this day and age?—but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’re never the only person who has a certain problem.

I’m a systems guy, and this dilemma has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while, and I think I’ve finally developed a bit of a possible approach. I’ve been getting to the point where I feel an increasing need to wrangle or systematize my author platform a bit, given that I have presences all over the place and am intermittent on all of them and need to update several of them to, for example, indicate that I’ve published more than two things, or that Hubris Towers exists.

Here’s the approach that’s brewing for how to develop my author platform a little more strategically:

  1. Figure out all the places I communicate with readers. This includes my websites, mailing lists, author bios in various places, Wattpad, Patreon, social media, as well as things like calls to action (CTAs) in the backs of books.
  2. Decide what the point of each of them is and how often each one needs to get updated. For example:
    • Author bio in the back of a paperback probably never really needs to get updated. It’s clear it was written when the book came out.
    • Widgets on the side of my blog with links to buy my books should get updated when a new book comes out.
    • Facebook could use a couple updates a day, presumably.
    • Blog maybe every time I have something useful to say, though even that depends on what counts as ‘useful.’
      • Part of the question here too is whether blog is mainly for readers or mainly for authors or just for me and whatever I’m thinking about. Any of those could be valid, but as long as I’m not sure, I won’t be using it particularly well.
  3. Set up a quick schedule for when to touch each thing. This could get ridiculous really fast, so I think a light touch is important. But I have an (admittedly intermittent) system for tracking what I need to do and by when and such, so once I’ve figured out that I want to post to my blog once a week (or day or month or whatever), there’s no reason not to put that into the system. I’m a big fan of not having to remember stuff manually.
  4. (Optional ninja level) Make a list of topics to rotate through or provide inspiration and guidance for each thing. Speaking for myself, part of my real problem is that I don’t know what kinds of topics and scope are appropriate for each given platform. Do I tell my mailing list I’m having a baby? Do I spin out intriguing theories about the spirit world on my blog? Can I tell Facebook I’m feeling depressed and bad at writing, or do I need to keep on message? It may sound a little control-freakish, but I really think it would help me to be able to just look at a list of the 12 things I talk about on my blog/mailing list/Twitter and pick one, or (even better) have a few simple guidelines that help me pick through the thousand things on my mind and figure out which one(s) will be interesting and worthwhile to a given audience in the context of a given platform or medium.

What about the rest of you? For the authors and bloggers and brilliant social media-istas (?) out there, how do you keep track of what needs to be kept up to date? Do you keep lists of ideas for what to write about next? Do you write on a schedule or as your whimsy takes you?

Cheers!

—Ben

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A Revolutionary New Kind of Online Communal-Story-Lovefest

Hi guys,

Man. So much cool stuff in progress that I’ve barely had a chance to look up. Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth a bit.

So the big theme these days is getting one-time infrastructure-y tasks of various sizes out of the way. I have a bunch of things looming/nagging, like finishing my newsletter’s welcome series or publishing The Dream World Collective or launching a website for Clickworks Press. Bad news is they’re each a ton of work. Good news is once they’re done, they’re done (unlike, say, Hubris Towers, which is running on a 6-week cycle so only gives me a little breathing room before it starts back up.)

I’ve realized these looming tasks take up almost as much brainspace as whatever I’m actively working on, so I’m really excited about the prospect of getting them resolved. I think life will feel free and easy (relatively speaking) when I can settle down to just working on the next story and building Clickworks Press with more focus on the business/community side than the web development side.

My brain is a very busy place these days. Here are some of the top things on my mind.

Hubris Towers Episode 5

Hubris Towers Season 1, Episode 4: Ominous Undertones

In case I forgot to tell you, this exists now.

Bill and I have completed half a season of Hubris Towers. (Woo!) But Episode 5 is starting to loom, with a target release date of 10/20/15.

Bill has been awesome and finished the plan in record time. Usually we work concurrently, with him a few scenes ahead of me at any given time. This time he was diligent and I was on vacation, so (pending a final conversation and maybe some tweaking) it’s all on me to just sit down and write it at this point. Yup. Three weeks left to get from zero words to holding a published copy. So…no pressure.

That said, my lovely wife and daughter are going to be out of town for a week, so I’m going to have a lot of quiet free time, and my crazy goal is to see if I can just sit down and bang out the whole rough draft in a day. Or two. That would be amazing.

Newsletter Welcome Series

I want people who sign up for my newsletters to get a proper welcome. The trickiest part, setting up an optional weekly delivery of free Dream World Collective chapters, is basically done. Huge relief. Now I’m working on a few final pieces and I’ll be ready to kick this off.

I want to add an email that gives a little cool background on The Stone and the Song, but I’m having trouble figuring out an interesting angle that hasn’t been done to death already.

I also set up a fun little reader quiz, which was way too long to start with, so I’ve decided to break it up, with a few fun easy questions for starters and a button at the end to take the reader to the next level if they’re interested. Only problem is that means turning one email into about 3-4 that trigger each other when a person clicks the button. I’ve got the method down, so at this point it’s just busywork, but still adds probably several hours of work.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to launch this welcome series. It’s so much fun. It’s got Han Solo and secret tips on [REDACTED] and a sandcastle story and free access to a novel I haven’t even released yet. And no creepy tentacles. I think it’s going to be one of the best ways I’ve invented yet to make friends with strangers. So I’m also in the back of my mind trying to figure out how to let people who are already signed up for the newsletter try it out, both for testing purposes and because it’s awesome.

Clickworks Press Website

This one is crazy cool, though a little complicated behind the scenes. My vision is to build a website that will draw out what we love about stories, characters, authors, and each other, with specific and interesting prompts that go beyond star ratings or generic reviews.

Like, what if you got to talk about your favorite setting in a book, or your favorite food scene, or pick colors that go with characters, or rage against the villains, or whatever, and a bunch of other people were doing that too, and all of that got aggregated on the book page and made one big story of our collective experience with this book? And then what if you could do that with characters, too, and see all the main characters in a book, or all the stories a character shows up in, or all the stories an author has written, or read, and all the cool little things readers like about the authors, too, and about each other, and—anyway. Run-on paragraph.

And there’s more beyond that, but we’ll start there. Of course, building a website from scratch would be a big enough job even if it were a simple little e-commerce site, not a revolutionary new kind of online communal-story-lovefest. And I don’t want to wait until I’ve invented and built a whole story-love platform before I launch any of this publicly. So I’ve got this thing divided into phases, viz.:

Phase 1 – Visible, attractive front page. Links (if any) work.

Phase 2 – Full hierarchical catalog of Clickworks books and author pages.

Phase 3 – Readers can create accounts and log in and leave a basic snippet.

Phase 4 – First side game and more snippets.

Right now I’m almost done with Phase 2, and I think once that’s solid I’ll do at least a soft launch. At the moment I still routinely break the site as I make little tweaks and teach myself…wow, come to think of it, two or three programming languages plus a framework or two. Like I said, complicated.

But the super-cool part (at this stage) is that all the effort I’m putting in on the front end—(I mean…in advance. I think it’s more like the back end, in web development terms. Or the middle end. Anyway.) All this effort up front is creating the coolest setup. I’ve nearly got it to the point where I can just fill out a new book’s information once in a pretty, user-friendly form, and the right stuff will show up everywhere it needs to throughout the site.

Like, once I’ve loaded in a book’s information, it will automatically generate (as appropriate given the rules I’m setting up) a preview on the front page and on the summary Books page, link the book on the author’s page, and, with only one simple line of code (really a shortcode), generate a full book page complete with buy links to any platforms the book is available on, author bio(s), etc., with customized bits based on the book’s publication date and whether it’s available for purchase. (For example, if it’s available for purchase but future pub date, it gets listed as Coming Soon and shows pre-order links.) It’s a little like magic.

(For the curious techies among you, I’m building it with WordPress, making extensive use of the Pods plugin, which makes it easy to define and use custom post types and taxonomies, as well as providing pretty powerful templating tools. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more. It’s super-sweet.)

I’m using Gumroad for direct sales and payment processing, and it’s quite elegant but not as powerful as I’d really like. Basically Gumroad has a super-sweet setup if you’re just selling items, but I want to be able to do cool micro-patronage stuff it’s not really built for and display information it doesn’t really make available in the ways I need, so I’m on the bubble. Stripe (and maybe Braintree) could do what I need, but I’d need to be a way better programmer before I’d feel comfortable using them. As I read the situation, Gumroad is a super-safe, simple way to get your products online and sell them, and it’s beautiful, but it’s able to be that simple and beautiful because it’s carefully focused on a specific task.

Things like Stripe have a powerful API (basically a way to program interactions with a site/app/service) that would let me do pretty much whatever I want, like make a charge to a credit card when some event triggers (say, we hit a support goal for a project a la Kickstarter), except I totally am not at a level where I’m comfortable just telling my website when it can go ahead and charge peoples’ cards. I make little mistakes from time to time, and I want to make sure that when I do, it results in things like a broken link or a page not displaying quite right, not someone getting double-charged or an author not getting paid.

So for now I’m sticking with the simple, secure, beautiful Gumroad, and dreaming of the day I can hire a proper developer, dig into the Stripe-or-similar API and really kick things up to the next level.

11 Tips for Promoting your Book

Here’s some practical insight from the Kobo Writing Life blog about how to get the word out about your book. I’m only just breaking into the world of Kobo, but finding their site and devices refreshingly elegant. I can’t wait to build up a Kobo following – diversify, diversify, diversify!

Kobo Writing Life

Written by Tim Inman 

# An essential to-do-list for independent authors

from whitefox #

whitefox_slide9

There’s more to self publishing than just writing the book. Promotion is almost as important as putting pen to paper, but many authors don’t know where to start. Luckily there are a few relatively simple tricks you can employ to give your book a better shot at commercial success.

  1. PICK THE RIGHT PRICE POINT 

If you try to flog your book too cheap, readers will assume that it isn’t very good. Set the price too high and they won’t be willing to take a punt on you, an unknown author. According to Kobo’s Mark Lefebvre (here) , $0.99 for an ebook is so low that readers can’t resist, $2.99 tends to perform even better, but $1.99 is an awkward middle ground; it is cheap enough to suggest a lack of professionalism, but not cheap…

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Is Daily Blogging Worth It? Post-A-Day Challenge Pros, Cons, and Next Steps

A couple months ago I took on a more modest version of Bookshelf Battle’s self-imposed daily post challenge. Instead of a post every day for the rest of 2015, I committed to a post every weekday through the end of March. I’m a day away from completing it, having successfully avoided yetis, aliens, etc., and I’ve learned a lot.

Pros

  • Daily posts have helped me build a back catalogue. Just a couple months in and I have a rich variety of useful posts for new readers to check out.
  • It helped me see what’s occupying my attention. Turns out it’s mostly writing projects. (Surprise!) This is helping me get more self-aware and work to diversify what I think, talk, and blog about.
  • I grew in discipline. The ability to write when you have nothing to write is a good skill for a professional writer. I learned again that there are always ideas if you’re willing to work for them.
  • I started finding my voice. This is early, but the math-y, spiritual, geeky, whimsical, overthinky parts of me are starting to show through. My fiction deeply reflects who I am and I love it. I can’t wait until my blogging does so more fully as well.
  • It clarified my goals. The habit of writing a monthly review and monthly goals has been surprisingly transformative. It’s crazy how much focus one blog post gave me.
  • I made friends! Through blogging I’ve started getting in touch with some really cool authors and bloggers like Kara Jorgensen, Kate M. Colby, Dave S. Koster, and Bookshelf Q. Battler. (Man. Talk about a name that lends itself to a cool blog title. Lucky.)

Cons

Mostly this is variants on “daily blogging takes too much of my writing-related time and energy.” Here are some specific angles.

  • It’s incredibly time-consuming (for me). I can’t seem to stop at two sentences, which meant uninspired days became long slogs. This is also why I’m bad at Twitter, incidentally.
  • Daily blog posts have a relatively low ROI. It’s been really useful having a blog in general. I’ve found some great people and—well, see above. But I think I would have gotten 80-90% of the value with 20-40% of the post frequency.
  • This means misdirected word count. I’ve posted around 8,300 words on my blog this month. Some of that was reposted from elsewhere, so say I’ve written 7,000, but even so that’s more than a full week’s word count target. If that were Hubris Towers instead of blog posts, I’d be finishing up Episode 1 about now. The blog posts are worth it if I’m saying something worthwhile, but not if I’m just trying to fill space or meet my quota for the day.
  • Blogging done my way has lots of peripheral time costs. It’s not like every 500 words on my blog is 500 words I didn’t add to a novel. While my composition speeds are comparable, I do a lot more editing and restructuring for non-fiction, and then I spend time on cool links and pictures and all. So really it could be that the opportunity cost of a 500-word blog post is 1,500 words on a story. And the stories are what I really love and am called to (and can sell, and what people might still be reading decades from now.) Kind of mind-boggling to realize I could maybe have written an extra 20,000-ish words this month. Maybe not—I mean, I also get distracted and dither and research and edit when I’m writing stories sometimes—but I’m curious to see how next month goes with lower blogging targets.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Broadly speaking, I think it’s really clear that it’s worth having a blog and updating it regularly, and (given the particulars of my case), that it’s not worth posting to it every day. I’m proud of myself for following through on my challenge to myself, and I think it’s more worthwhile early on in the life of a blog just to skip over the sparse, navel-gazy, getting-your-bearings phase. But I’m not planning to stick with daily posts.

Right now I’m leaning toward posting once or twice a week. This provides a bit of flexibility (to avoid wasting time when I have nothing to say) but also a bit of structure (because sometimes the good ideas don’t come until you sit and try for a while). It also maintains enough frequency to give you readers something worth coming back to with some regularity.

I’m also looking forward to branching out a bit into other topics like worldbuilding, games and game design, productivity, the many splendors of Baltimore, communal living, Christianity and the invisible world, food, language, and fun tidbits and background about my stories and their settings, characters, etc.

One question that’s still up in the air is whether I should pick regular days—say, Tuesdays and Fridays instead of just “two posts a week.” Could feel a little restrictive (though publishing as scheduled posts can help with that) but also sets up a dependable rhythm for readers. I’m probably going to go more freeform at least for April and see how that works out. But I’d love your thoughts.

How frequently would you like to see me posting? Does it matter if it’s regularly on the same days? Any broad topics or specific subjects you’d like to see more (or less) of?

Cheers!

—Ben

Building Your Author Mailing List From Scratch

In all my research about how to market your books, the consensus I keep finding is that the real foundation for an effective strategy comes down to two things: your next book and your mailing list.

This makes sense. Each book boosts all the rest, and there’s no point in finding ways to drive traffic if there’s no high-quality catalog of books for people to find. And for all the social media and book promotions and algorithm hacking, I can’t imagine a more stable and consistent way to make sales than to have a list of people who like what you do and have asked you to contact them directly when you have new work available. So while I’m constantly experimenting and researching to find and harness good ways to get the word out, my fundamental strategy rests on writing more books and maintaining a strong mailing list.

Except I don’t have a mailing list yet.

This sets up an interesting situation. I’ve already been a bit noisy about my book launch (speaking of which – get your copy before the price goes up on Saturday!) And while I don’t mind a bit of justifiable self-promotion, I really don’t want to be that friend who’s constantly trying to get you to buy my book, so I’m not going to just put all my friends on my mailing list (which is poor practice and borderline unethical anyway), and I’m a little hesitant to even broadcast a lot of invites.

But I also have some amazing friends who will do everything in their power to help me get the word out, who eagerly want updates, and who will be all the more effective if I can give some clear goals and unified direction. I want them on my list. And across years, cities, and continents, I’ve built up wonderful circles of friends and acquaintances who, though we may have fallen out of touch, might be very excited to read my books and get in on the fun.

Or possibly some of them have forgotten who I am.

So how do you start a list that has everyone who should be on it but nobody who shouldn’t?

Here’s the solution I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear what you guys have done. I’ve gone through my entire contact list (including some very old and diverse acquaintances) and narrowed it to just the people I remember and I think might remember me and be interested in the fact that I’m publishing books now.

I’m getting set up with a mailing list service—still testing things out, but probably MailChimp—and I’m going to make a burner list out of those contacts. I’ll send out one email letting them know about the launch and upcoming cool stuff and give them a link to sign up if they want updates. I’ll probably send a reminder or two in a few days, just because sometimes people miss emails. And then I’ll delete that list. Anyone who signs up for more will get it, and I won’t bother the others any further.

The fun thing is that since I’m a geek and game-obsessed and process-oriented and (let’s admit it) unnecessarily complicated about stuff, I’m already finding some really fun possibilities for segmenting the lists. I’m playing with interesting sign-up forms that will help me find which of my people are big readers or aspiring writers, who’s a socialite and who’s an enigma, who wants to spread the word and who likes missions and experiments.

But more on that later. Or you can sign up here and get in on the ground floor. I’ll warn you now, it’s all experimental and subject to change. But I think it’s going to get pretty sweet.

Early Forays Into Audiobooks

Exciting developments! I’m starting work on the audiobook version of The Stone and the Song. It’s been part of my plans to have audio versions of my books available at some point, but I was a little intimidated about the process and didn’t have specific plans yet about when and how to get S & S into audio.

But I looked into it, and it turns out it’s a lot simpler than I thought. I’m mainly looking at Audible for now and I expected all kinds of complicated specs and formatting stuff, but it’s actually not bad. There are a few specifications in terms of audio quality, volume variations, etc., but the requirements for structure, credits, and so on basically come down to stating the title, author, and narrator; having a bit of dead air at the beginning and end of each file; and keeping the file sizes and lengths reasonable.

So that’s exciting. My big Christmas present was a Blue Yeti microphone and, while I’m not a qualified audio tech, I am loving it. Still experimenting with the best setup to get a really crisp, professional-sounding audiobook, but it’s a really promising start. And I’m really excited about the project. The Stone and the Song is made to be read aloud—very intentional use of rhythm and rhyme and timing.

My friend Bill is starting to make early forays into podcasting and audio narration as well, and he’s starting to record The Dream World Collective for Podiobooks and/or Audible. Exciting times – updates to follow!

Patron Perks, Stone & Song Edits, and a Prototype

I’ve got a few exciting production updates and goals today. Here’s what I’d like to finish by the time I go to bed.

Patron Perks for the January Bonus Bundle

It’s time to deliver the January Bonus Bundle to my wonderful patrons! I still need to finish some of the writing and get the post-production completed. Today I’d like to finish all 3 parts:

– The History of the Moustache (A Modest Contribution #2) – These are short, funny bonus episodes hosted by the Dream World Collective’s resident geek, Otto. Always sure to be highly edifying and inaccurate. Tons of fun to write. Should be about 1000 words.

– Character sketch of Sushi Vasquez (3 sections) – $3+ patrons also get a peek at my character design sheet for Sushi. This one should be easy to finish, but the original was lost with the theft of an old laptop long ago, so it will still involve some rewriting. Guessing this will be 500-750 words; the outline-ish format will make it easier, as will the fact that I know most of the content already.

– Kitchen Adventures #1 – A cooking show with Summer (also from The Dream World Collective). This is the first one I’ve created and I’m unusually nervous about it. Maybe because it has to be funny but also end up with a recipe that (more or less) works. Otto’s the guest on this one, which should help. This goes to $5+ patrons, so currently has a very small potential audience, which may also contribute to the jitters. Best guess is 1000-1500 words, but I’m going to play this by ear. Could be shorter if the focus ends up more on the recipe than the adventure by which they get to it.

The Stone and the Song Preliminary Edits

So I’ve committed myself to a very quick turnaround on this (cf. my early experiences setting up an Amazon pre-order). I need to finish all my edits, proofreading, and post-production (including any CTAs and the Dream World Collective preview I’m including) and upload the final manuscript by midnight Wednesday 2/11/15. Not sure if that’s midnight at the beginning or end of Wednesday. I suspect the former. Will be done Tuesday night just in case. I committed to this before I’d really even previewed the manuscript to see if it needs any rewriting or just proofreading and tidying up.

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

It’s only about 30 pages and I finished preliminary edits on the first third or so yesterday. Today I’d like to get through at least proofreading and formatting on the rest of the manuscript. I think at least one scene needs a minor content revision. If I can get that done too, so much the better. Tricky thing there is that it’s based on a possible minor plot glitch, so I may actually need to figure out what’s going on (unseen to the reader), which can take an unpredictable amount of time.

A Prototype!

I’m really excited about this one. For February I’ve got a really fun scheme in mind. I’ve developed an elegant little mechanism for folding a single sheet of paper into a mailable letter with just a few folds: no cutting, adhesives, or envelope required.

Idea is to create little fill-in-the-blank notes and letters that you can print out, fill in, fold up, and pop in the mail to someone you love (or like, or know, or don’t). I’m kind of going to shanghai Valentine’s Day and take it beyond romance, because love comes in all sorts of forms and people are valuable.

Only problem is that I think the current version ends up about half an inch too small to fit USPS machinable mail guidelines, so I’ve got to rework it a bit. Here’s a preview in the meantime.

Letterfold – Blank (Prototype 1)

And So Much More!

Oh my gosh. So many things going on right now. I also need to get the patron-only preview of the next section of Dream World Collective up so I can post it publicly over the weekend.

And I need to get the landing page for the letterfold project up. (By the way, is calling it the Share The Love event too cheesy? Any better ideas?) I’m also setting up a proper mailing list host and possibly even an autoresponder. Really should get that going by the Stone & Song release date at the latest so people who read it and love it have a good way to get in touch with me.

I’m really excited, though. This is a time for pushing hard to lay a ton of infrastructure, which should really help as the first couple novels reach completion.

Thanks for being in on the journey with me! What are you reading/writing/working on these days? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Cheers!
—Ben