A few more things to work on the farm. Courses get revitalized when I discover their story – and build them into an active membership…
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” ~ Tim Notke
- Total subscribers: 2053
- New subscribers last seven days: 4
- Course sign-ups: 0
Memberships/Courses in Progress:
- Goal Achievement
- PMA: SOS – An Introduction
- Completely Change Your Life
- Strangest Secret Collection (A few more mini-courses out of this book)
- 2% Club
- Authorship: Becoming a Wealthy Writer (3 parts)
- Becoming a Successful Writer – Your Guide to Unlimited Writing Success (covers goal achievement for writers)
- Becoming a Productive Writer – The Fiction Writer’s Master Craft Guide
- Becoming a Wealthy Writer – Your Guide to Unlimited Backend Income
- Breakthrough Copywriter shows up here.
- Authors Insider Access to Tools
- Farm Less, Profit More
- And a fiction-readers membership finishes it out.
- Advising Readers Club
- Insiders Club
- First Readers Group
Spent some time getting the rest of my Golden Age collections/anthologies readied for instant publishing. Meaning, all the versions are formatted in three digital versions, and I just have to syndicate each book to the three main platforms: Gumroad, Barnes & Noble, and my own site. Gumroad because it gives the highest royalty, also enables people to pay what they want, and gives me their emails. Barnes & Noble because they don’t hassle me about public domain books. My own site then has these buy links, and is the one go-to place to get new books every week – where I can update things simply. (And my own site then also encourages visitors to join my memberships.)
Subscribers: Showing the elimination of those who haven’t opened anything in 6 months. Otherwise, they’re continuing their slow drop as they and I weed those who aren’t a good fit. Not too surprising, the list looks a lot more active with these gone. Because those “ghosts” were hiding the statistics of people who were opening and clicking on things.
More Training – The one course with all the videos starts this next week, on Saturday, and mostly posts through the next four weeks. I don’t have a schedule yet, but I’m sure to have one shortly. However, I started plowing through David Gaughin’s course, called “Starting From Zero”. And I can’t recommend it overall. Because it’s Amazon-centric. Meaning: it will be out of date shortly, because Amazon changes every day. The other key point he recommends is Facebook, which is another inanity of conventional wisdom. Of course, he’s a genre author and recommends people write also-ran books. See more below on what I found on his course and how that stacks up with what I’ve found elsewhere.
This video course just opened up this weekend (as I write this) so I haven’t gotten through their long transcripts to peel back the dross and get to any gold hiding there. I appreciate their putting nicely formatted transcripts up there. And may need to convert their PDFs to more workable text formats, but you’ll have a better report next week.
Meanwhile, enjoy the review of Gaughran’s course below. I do recommend getting on his email list, since an Irish writer is most always a joy to read (even James Joyce – in moderation).
Why Most Conventional Wisdom for Authors is Wrong
Gaughran’s “Starting from Zero” course (check it out for yourself for free – you can always unsubscribe later) is in error on several points. I picked this course up because it’s free and because he’s been right about a lot of things about Amazon – and still is. And his book on Bookbub is a necessary read for any author who’s thinking about advertising (which is everyone, these days – as organic discovery has been dead for a very, very long time.)
But he’s not working from any concept of wide publishing, and concentrates on two failed platforms: Amazon and Facebook. Both have censorship problems, and neither are actually designed to sell books on their own. Kobo does sell only ebooks (and audio). Barnes & Noble is getting back to their bookselling roots and away from the kerfluffle they’ve been pushing at their checkout stands and entry tables. All the rest sell a lot of stuff in addition – and like Amazon, push their highest-profit items. (iTunes sells iPhones.) Books are often a loss-leader to get you into the online store. Gaughran notes that there are sometimes 250 other links for stuff to buy on every single Amazon “book” page. All so they can take 30% of your potential income and tell you what price range you can use.
Facebook probably won’t be around after a few years. (Like MySpace and others, the Internet is built on churn. Twitter is a content ghost town these days.) Amazon’s founder has already turned over his CEO job, and was quoted as saying most businesses only last 40 years…
Only Amazon requires reviews. Others appreciate them, but aren’t insistent on it. If you want to burn through the limited time you have on this planet – spend it on chasing reviews.
And Gaughran points out that all the changes at Amazon are to promote churn – so your book is worth less every day it’s on sale. If it’s ever noticed at all. Make that: every minute. Because your sales rank is adjusted on the minute, and any Amazon “best seller” might only be up there for a few minutes before something else has taken its place. Been there, done that.
So the truly weird thing is how Gaughran insists you set up your book according to how similar books that are offered on Amazon look and read. This is a tombstone to prop up in your book graveyard. It’s all advice about genre writing. You are writing with the tropes and “expecteds” that readers in that genre want. Your cover looks like the others. Same type of images, same fonts. Your blurbs read like the others. The only place you can shine is in the quality of your writing – of which, Gaughran only says to “hire an editor.” His course is about the mechanics of getting set up to write genre fiction, not the writer’s craft. The short critique: it’s an also-ran course that helps you produce also-ran books.
Here’s his key advice for building a sustainable career:
“I recommend that you, first of all, write a series in a popular genre.
“Number two, publish as regularly as you can, but while maintaining standards.
“And third, market those books in a targets and sustainable way to fans of your niche.”
That approach will keep you unknown and spending your book income on ads. Writing only in a popular genre is screwball. If you’re going to write genre-specific books, and prioritize publishing to Amazon, then pick out viable sub- and sub-sub-genres by using K-Lytics to do your homework on covers, keywords, and categories. And even then, this data will give you a far greater understanding of that genre where it shows up on other online ebook distributors.
But the largest and continuous-selling books aren’t written for any particular genre. The could each fit in several, and you’ll find their categories within Amazon place them there.
Writing genre fiction sets you up to be an also-ran. I’ve covered this elsewhere. There is no substitute for mastering each of the five story structures and weaving these through your stories. That’s craft, and something Gaughran doesn’t attempt to teach in this course.
(I’ve covered separately that these interweaving structures still add up to the Campbell monomyth. But knowing and practicing – through writing prolifically each of these structures in turn – is the only real way to learn how to produce what a story wants and needs in being brought to life.)
“Publishing as regularly as you can” is both plus and minus. The authors I’ve followed and distilled have all been prolific. Their first action after finishing a book is to start the next one. And Erle Stanley Gardner refined series writing into using recurring characters. He said that such characters were an inexhaustible gold mine. (Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare.)
Bottom line, which Gaughran finally agrees with, deep inside his course, is that you absolutely have to love writing in order to succeed at it.
The break-out and blockbuster books have one common element bigger above the rest on their covers: the author’s name. Because people are buying that author’s works (Nora Roberts, Patterson, Graham, you can name them.) With a repeating character, they are also following that character’s own evolution through that series. They are invested in how that character’s life ends up. (Castle, Harry Potter, Jason Bourne, Jesse Stone.) The exception to this also includes “Murder, She Wrote” where the plot is the same over and over and over – the only difference was the setting and the supporting characters. The main character doesn’t seem to change at all. Contrast that with the “Die Hard” movie series, which takes place over decades.
I’ve covered what makes a breakout/blockbuster book before. It’s based on one single summary page out of a huge tome by Albert Zuckerman.There are only six points to this, which are simple enough to understand, but maybe take a decade or two to really master. (The rest of his book is mostly about how to prepare that manuscript.)
Again, master the five story structures and learn how to interweave them. Then start writing what you love to read, and writing like you talk. Keep reading and writing and make every story better than the last. If you aren’t enjoying every second of writing that book, then the reader won’t enjoy every second it requires to read it – and will put it down at some point.
Core of this approach: Read what you love, write what you love. Write in series, write in serials.
As far as advertising, here’s Gaughran’s key (free and updated) page: Best Book Promotion Sites. That’s the single gold nugget of this course. These are places that only recommend books to people who are only there to buy books. The elephant in that room is Bookbub. (Again, get Gaughran’s book about working with that “elephant”.)
Again, this is purposely NOT “writing to market”. Instead, you are working to routinely churn out stories that are perennial-selling: classics. The current genre fads and trends will change. If you do studies of the perennial classics (like the top 100 Gutenberg.org downloads), you’ll find the commonalities that keep people getting and reading these books long after their prose became clunky.
This isn’t the place to go into best practices (beyond what we’ve mentioned). I said last week that I’d tell you if anything doesn’t match up with the core principles I’ve distilled. The rest (about real writer’s craft) is in that “How I Survived My First Year of Writing Fiction” – which is still valid, but as I build its course, I’m streamlining its prose.
Starting From Zero Doesn’t Mean Digging the Same Hole Deeper
We’ve covered genre-writing. We’ve warned you about Amazon-specific foibles like “reviews” and the huge error of doing any “social media” (excepting just boilerplate syndication.)
For understanding book “launches”, I’d recommend you study over the books by Tim Grahl. He’s the one who first clued me into what a time-waster social media is (other than my own observation that the reading and writing I did on sites like that didn’t ever result in saleable books published.) He specializes in launches and has a track record at this. And yet, always test his ideas with a grain of salt. Like everything you read about writing and publishing – especially if I said it.
The granddaddy of launches is probably Jeff Walker. Compare his “launch formula” to Grahl’s approach and you’ll see how to refine both of them.
The real “Starting from Zero”
You’ll need two things to start with (in addition to your imagination and capacity for hard work):
- A backend website with a domain name you own,
- An email list provider you pay for.
After that, you need to build a backlist of book titles. Again, writing with repeating characters, in series and in serials.
Like businesses, you’re going to support yourself with other income for at least the first five years of fiction writing. Non-fiction is a bit different, depending on what subject you are writing about – they can start taking off much earlier than fiction. But there aren’t as many non-fiction books out there, and it’s true that there “90% crud” out there, so the best non-fiction tend to keep selling and belie those statements above about Amazon churn. Don’t ever expect an Amazon bestseller. Expect to be ignored.
Most “over night” authors were around 5-10 years in the making. And the ones that did this sooner tended to use those best practices I’ve outlined above. They were consistently building their backend and email list all along.
As I’ve said before – Tim Grahl pointed out that your “platform” is your network. The reason most books only sell about 250 copies at best, is because that’s all the family and friends they have. It’s an old datum in MLM as well. (And why all MLM bonuses are paid out in the first 90 days of joining – after that, it’s really hard to find people to buy from you.)
The reports about having “big email lists” are mostly hype. Well-weeded email lists that are responsive are the ones that make those big leaps on the charts. That’s an active network. The authors with six-figures have a big backlist and are promoting sets of their earliest books to the book-buyer sites.
As I’ve proved over the three years I’ve used Instafreebie (Prolific Works), is that the freebie seekers aren’t the same as the “back of book” opt-in’s. I’m winding up with about 10 percent of those staying. And most of those original sign-ups opt-out or go inactive within the first 6 months. The only justification is that those 10 percent are pretty loyal, and you may not have gotten them except by giving something away. That said, I think running ads for books where they at least have to pay 99-cents will give you someone that has some skin in the game. (And IF/PW is still the cheapest route currently to get a lot of readers fast – even when taking into account all the weeding you’re going to have to do.) As you’ve been following this series, you’ll see that I was up to almost 5,000 on my list early on. And out of the 10,000-plus signups, I’m down to about 1500 of those still active. Figure you’re going to be pissing away 85-90% of your opt-ins within a few years or less. Be happy when people unsubscribe. The ones who are left are incredibly valuable, even though they can always by more.
That’s where this challenge goes – toward memberships, where people learn to raise their hand and get more help from you.
Back to avoiding that digging more hole:
Anytime people talk about pricing strategies, perk up your ears. In the early days of Amazon, the 99-cent specials were weighted and made the first million-booksale authors. Later on, Amazon figured that this wasn’t making them enough money and they changed their algorithms again.
The most useful advice I’ve seen recently is where a writer found her success was in writing 5-book series, and then offering the first three books as a set for just 99-cents. Then they are invested, and buy the rest to find out what happened to that character. The ad wasn’t on Amazon or Facebook, it was on Bookbub.
In the main, I’ve had more success publishing through Draft2Digital to Amazon as an aggregator than I have in publishing directly to KDP. D2D takes their 10%, and I’m not getting threatening emails from the great god ZON about how I’ve somehow violated their TOS. If Amazon doesn’t like my book, they block it and we both move on. My whole account isn’t at risk.
Gaughran talks on and on about publishing in series on Amazon. There’s now a button on Amazon series pages so readers can buy the entire series at once now. Good for them. Meanwhile, you can offer your readers the same or better bunch of books at a lower price on Gumroad – just for your own readers. You can even run ads to get your “reader magnet” (that first three books in the series) directly through Gumroad. And you also get the email that Amazon won’t send you.
I have three possible URL’s on my site template to send people to buy from. One is already either Streetlib or Barnes & Noble if Public Domain, and Draft2Digital’s books2read.com if not. The third one is Gumroad. The second one is usually been set up for discount versions of paperbacks through Lulu.com. Now I’m thinking that I should really crack the Smashwords problems and start porting my books through them. Because that’s a real community of book buyers where I can get subscribers. Just an idea. And I can work on pre-orders, etc. there.
There’s more about emails and treating people like friends and family instead of potential customers. Gaughran recommends “Newsletter Ninja” for this. It’s a decent read. Hypey, of course. But thoroughly practical.
The Myth of “Kickstarters” and Outside Financing for Authors
There are so many myths and outright crud that keeps being regurgitated about the “now-you’re-supposed-to’s” in the writing business. One of these is crowd-sourced financing. I’ll used the generic term “kickstarter” to refer to any of these services.
I’ve been involved in an abortive kickstarter project by Instafreebie, right after they changed their name. It didn’t work, because whoever was running it insisted that you do what they recommended that week, ready or not. So probably 3 out of 12 managed to actually “launch” their kickstarter. Only one made their goals. And the next project to teach people the kickstarter process failed completely. Since then, IF/PW has been in radio-silence about helping authors.
The premise for “needing” outside financing is the false perception that it costs a lot to get your book published. That’s a load of hogwash.
The biggest expense you’re going to need is time to write. All that takes is deciding and taking action to simply carve out some time daily and stick to it. Two current “guru’s” got started this way: one had a two hour commute daily by train, so used it writing. Another got to work an hour early every day and spent that writing. James Blish (award-winning SF author) also wrote an hour per day for most of his writing career, outside of his full-time job. In his “On Writing”, Stephen King said he averaged 2 hours a day of actual writing. Others I’ve kept track of would do half-hour sprints, usually when his kids were napping. Another housewife got her writing done after she sent her kids to school and sat down at the local coffeehouse or laundromat to get her writing done. Some people write on the weekends (providing they got their household chores and family duties taken care of first, natch.) One hour per day, every day, seems to have the most success. Always in the same time, same space, using the same set up. So when you start to write, your inspiration is trained to start right then.
The downside of kickstarters is that any success depends on how large and active your network already is. Which is already true. All it really does is to hot-up your existing subscribers, family, and friends/associates. If you are busy writing really good books with effective covers and blurbs, with opt-in links at the end of each, then you are building your list that way already. Then send them really engaging emails. Keep building your list, quit begging them for money. Concentrate on making each book better than the last. Build your backlist meanwhile.
Other supposed “expenses” a kickstarter pays for
Covers: use Canva – it’s free.
Editing: use ProWritingAid – it’s also free. But the lifetime account is the best value. Integrates with most of your writing programs.
Formatting: I use LibreOffice. It reads and writes word docs. Is accepted everywhere MSWord is (aggregators, Amazon KDP, Kobo, etc.) Yes, it’s always been free – like it’s name. (The trick is to assign headings in a consistent manner. That sets your Table of Contents as you go.) See mention of Draft2Digital below.
Graphics work: I use GIMP. It does all the graphics work you need. I mainly use it for cropping and resizing. You don’t have to learn everything it has to offer to get going. Yes, it’s also free.
Posting your books to aggregators and online: it’s always been free. I use Draft2Digital to do all my ebook formatting, plus the endmatter back pages. This keeps your ebooks updated with all your other books by that pen name. Again, their formatting is free even if you don’t publish through them.
Promotional Videos: Use your smartphone. Something you already have.
Additional: Get your free copy of Calibre and install it. This will keep all your books and book projects organized. Handy when you have crossover characters.
So: why would you need to run a Kickstarter campaign?
Answer: You don’t.
What did I learn from doing that process? Some people are control freaks and shouldn’t be given projects involving your buying public. But that was just that Instafreebie/PW process. Running a Kickstarter campaign is a full-time job for about two to three months. You have to build the products, and all the sales pages, and usually a sales video. (Yes, you can see where all these learning curves are sucking your time, plus programs you’ll need…)
Obviously, you should have taken that time writing your next book. In my case, I could be getting four short-story ebooks out in a month, so that’s maybe 8 6K-word books I could have published – or one anthology of about 50K words.
Summary: Authors don’t need kickstarters – they need to be writing.
Memberships and Courses Strategy & Tactics
While I’m still intending to post these mini-courses to the four marketplaces below, the new challenge has taken hold. I’ve now started laying out the membership levels. These are aligned to the final products I’ve produced, and also the ongoing production that I have.
Goal Achievement will incrementally expand, as I convert more books into courses. Courses themselves will be one-time charges. And so that holds for the Farming Membership as well. (Although that will be under development and this may change, though unlikely at this point.)
Authorship and Fiction will have on-going paid memberships, because I’ll be continuing to produce original books and authorship study guides in the form of Science Fiction Classics. Both of those can be distributed under a flat-fee basis instead of a per-book basis. (There’s an interesting idea that I need to remove older products as I introduce new ones. So people have to visit regularly, at least once a month, to get the most benefit.)
Fiction itself will be fascinating, so being part of both of these memberships would be the most immersive approach to learning and improving their authorship/craft. “Becoming a Wealthy Author” will be a one-time-fee course, which can be revisited as you want.
None of these courses I produce will explore anything along the lines of the current how-to books and courses by the “guru’s”. I instead distill and explore timeless principles that have worked before written languages, or printing presses, or the Internet. And also timeless patterns and systems these principles form in their various combinations. Charging for access to my journey just keeps the whole thing interesting. Memberships are a form of concentric spheres of trust. The more people invest and opt-in (pay), the closer they can get to me and get my personal discoveries. But I don’t plan to take up coaching. These courses will evolve, I’m sure. Meanwhile, I’ll have an interesting time of things.
As well, other content will be in production, all in addition to the above. Podcasts, mainly, but these will probably be turned into videos and so, courses. That’s an interesting workflow all on its own. All in addition to cranking out fiction this next year, on its own mammoth arc.
So the next 6 months have to be intense as well. I’ll keep working on the planning of this.
Next step forward is to complete any homework on this Rainmaker platform I’m using now. The approach will be to narrow my opt-ins and refine them to align my subscribers into these four memberships.
There is also a possible refinement of my material on enlightenment, which is mostly going back through Levenson and Silva materials looking for advanced abilities that can be unearthed. Silva was working on this as his last product-line – and there are at least three versions of this course. There are also Magic of Believing to distill into similar approaches. However, all these materials are more readily communicated through fiction than trying to convince people that these approaches can do what they promise.
And so you see the fine line of a trail that my journey is taking.
It’s having to distill all the methods of working in digital versus actual versus “real” worlds. What I’ve discovered is a new way of thinking about data containers and “publishing”, data-dissemination and its economics.
Of Course, This Means That the Sky’s the Limit
Future training is full of many things.
I just went off onto a tangent with essay “The Art of Murder” by Raymond Chandler. This and other essays (like Carolyn Wells’ “Mystery Story Technique for Writers”) can be found to make a nice course, and then include the study materials – books of bestselling mysteries of their day and all time. Build these up with videos based on those essays and you have a winner for those who simply want to write in the harder genre of mystery. (And that is why mysteries sell well, as they be mass-duplicated like Romances, so there is much less competition there. It’s an addiction that’s harder to get a fix for.)
And that just told me that the road of memberships and courses, and other forms of idea containers, are just the continuing journey through this existence.
Of course, that just makes the journey a personal one – which it always has been. An endless personal journey.
Endless opportunities and possibilities.
Again the strategic steps for syndicating courses as lead-gens into memberships are:
- Post (and catch up) all beta-ready courses and standalone lessons under new format on this site. Still have to get the video’s moved to Rumble and embedded here, as Rainmaker went stingy on their promised hosting.
- Syndicate those mini-courses to the four marketplaces. (Each of them will be a challenge to explore, while Leanpub might a major one.) Do one marketplace at a time.
- Update the backend of my top-selling books to incorporate those links. (Some of those are more major editing and republishing jobs.)
- Audiobooks published from these courses through Findaway (if original audio)
- Build out the premier course for both major lines (goal achievement and writing) – get these promoted to my list and to new opt-in’s. Set the other courses for the top-selling books up as mini’s, but paid.
Keystone courses become Memberships:
– PMA:SOS/Strangest Secret Collection,
– Becoming a Wealthy Writer,
– Farm Less, Profit More, Save the Planet M.
- Build out these lessons as podcasts to promote those courses.
- Texts for these courses worked up as ebook/paperbacks – edited, reorganized, republished, and audio version posted to Findaway.
The key is to get things fully wrapped up as I do them, syndicated everywhere. The important part is to get all the books syndicated everywhere they can be.
Again, wrap up LearnDesk first, then proceed. That first set of courses will lay out sales pages and graphics for everything. But I have to stick to it.
Refocusing My Goals
Courses and Memberships – mainly, getting these courses set up on the feeder marketplaces while any of my spare time is invested in learning about and building these memberships, which include the free courses I already have on site.
All the work in building up my Space Opera Tales anthologies/collections now pays off. I can simply concentrate on building memberships and courses. Biggest to smallest means Farming is last. Writing is second, which will probably get me right into re-starting my own fiction writing again. At least this gives me a fairly straightforward path.
And the thought just hit me to re-name this Challenge half-way through. Because that would keep me focused. Yes, I still have various audiobooks which aren’t syndicated, but they are few. Again, I can pick these up while I develop the memberships. There is also the upgrade of the “Completely Change Your Life” series as well. More likely, I need to simply build these frameworks and then come back to update the materials in each one, promoting them to their own newsletter as I go.
With the memberships built by the end of this year and each with their own newsletter in place, then I’ll be able to concentrate on this upcoming epic for next year. Sounds like a great deal of fun…
A complete sidebar to everything writing/publishing
From the last two days’ research – “De-Googled phones” came up. Someone is doing a marketing scam of getting some cheap Chinese phones, and repackaging them with a new Android OS, plus some other keyword rich goodies. And some swanky keyword-related marketing (and stealing other’s software and product names as he does.)
Just marketing, though. I predict he’ll make a pile of money and wreck his reputation. Because new releases are buggy – and he hasn’t submitted his phones for testing to anyone. No reviews, just a bunch of hype from affiliate-sales-driven Conservative Celebrities. His first shipments will arrive in August sometime. Look for “Freedom Phones” and you can see a lot of the bad press he’s already gotten. The rest is hype on phones that haven’t been experienced.
But you can do everything he claims for much less, and have been able to do this for years.
The trick with Android phones is that they are joined at the hip with Google. That company is pulling location data constantly, as well as linking all the sites/calls/texts with your personal ID. And the only way to get Google out of your phones is to load in a completely new OS. Which of course breaks any warranty.
Best phone to get out there right now is, oddly, the Google Pixel 4a (refurbished and unlocked, of course). Because it’s made in Vietnam, probably, and can be simply reloaded with either GrapheneOS or LineageOS (which supports a wider variety of phones.)
You can shut off everything on your phone, but you’ll still be nagged to turn back on your Google Services app – which is the one that runs down your battery by constantly sending data to Google. But this differs from phone to phone. Until you go ahead and invest in a (refurbished) phone that you can get switched to another OS. Just the way it is.
Last weeks to-do’s:
- This analysis & emails – Yup
- Keep the farm running by priorities. – Yup
- Finish that trailer project – Done
- Start building the three membership areas – homework and basic pages first – Nope.
This week’s to-do’s:
- This analysis & emails
- Keep the farm running by priorities.
- Script out the nine course trailers and start generating these videos.
- Start building the three membership areas – homework and basic pages first.