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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Information Marketing : Eliminate Reduce Raise Create Grid

Eliminate
- Ebay
- Blog
- Affiliate Marketing

Raise
- Model success
- Ideas for generate successful products quickly
- Market research

Reduce
- Stories
- Fluff
- Public Domain

Create
- ERRC grid
- Lifestyle design
- Checklists
- Work book
- Distribution : SRDS, Amazon, B&N

How to Figure Out What Information to Sell

1. What do people always ask you about?
2. Do you have special knowledge others would like to know?
3. Have you experienced certain setbacks in life and overcome them?
4. Have you succeed in a career that many people fail at?
5. What subjects interest you the most?
6. What hobbies do you enjoy most?
7. What jobs have you held?


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Building an online community

Most of us netizens know how to build an online community. In fact, with the advent of the smartphone, it is possible for us to be logged in 24 hrs a day, and most of the time, the updates that we get are from our network – both personal and professional.

What this means is that most of us already know how to build a network, and most of us already have an existing network of friends and family.

So why then do we need to learn how to build a network, especially our professional network?

Well, to be perfectly honest, most of us who have a personal network, build it up in a very arbitrary manner. There isn't any plan, or even a pattern to it, and this is just not acceptable when you're building a professional network.

And this is where your learning comes in useful. I just spent a solid hour going through the “Building an online community” course by Justin Seeley and  I learned a lot of information that makes online marketing so much easier. Such as for instance identifying your target audience and then spending some time in finding out where exactly they hang out.

So for example, if you are selling a business service, spending a lot of time in professional networks such as Linkedin is a good idea because your target market is there, whereas if you're more B2C, personal networks like Twitter and FB are a better choice.

I'm not saying that you should concentrate on only one network and leave the rest. No. In fact this too is explained here, where you identify three networks for you to concentrate on and basically divide every hour that you spend on them as 30/20/10 in order of priority.

Then comes how you prioritize your website and designing, how you create a good profile and how you engage with your network. Considering that you will probably go through the module twice which means that you spend at the most an hour at it, the number of ideas that you come away with is just great. I spent the first half hour in just going through it. The next one, I took notes and created a chart in my calendar on what I need to do for the next few days to plug the gaps that are there right now.

It's a great course that I recommend to every body who's looking to build an online network.

And of course, don't stop with just one. Get as much as you can out of it, make your notes, and then go on to the next one.

And I'll tell you what I learned from the next course when I get done with it.

Why you need to learn

One of the things that I learned with regards to writing a book is that if you are interested in selling it, then you need to do a lot of legwork before you start selling it. While doing my research, the one common idea that came out of most published authors is that they market their books in any way possible.

Although each person can have a different take on this marketing thing, most of the time, the underlying theme is fairly straightforward.

1. You create a site for yourself which hosts your book(s).

2. This site will form the center of all your marketing campaigns and all traffic will be directly routed here.

3. You build a wheel of sites with your home site as the hub, with spokes (links) linking back and forth between them.

4. You slowly create a fan base of loyal followers and start engaging with them, slowly building your traffic organically.

5. You may not see much sales in the initial few months, but if you persist, this is the best way for you to ensure that you not only sell the book that you have already written, but also the books that you will write in the future.

The basic theme as I said before, is pretty straightforward. But when you get down to the nitty gritty, you find that there's still a lot you don't know.

For example, how are you going to create your own site? If you have the money you can get a professional to do it, but what if you don't?
Since I am already a writer, writing articles and other pieces of content is not that difficult, but what of video content for youtube? You cannot afford to ignore youtube which is the second largest search engine in the world. And video editing software isn't cheap either.

Finally, if you do get all of this done, how much time do you spend in directly marketing yourself? Most sites say that you should not be spending more than an hour every day, but having done it myself, I know that this just isn't enough. Maybe if I already have a fan base of a few thousand people, then an hour a day to engage with them is good. But I'm not there yet. I am in the process of creating the network, and I can't get much done in an hour a day.

So I thought; why not learn from professionals? I purchased a membership into Lynda.com and it's one of the best investments that I have made.

There's pretty much anything and everything that you will need there. And you don't just get one person's perspective, like in other training sites. You get multiple perspectives from different people, and this is what I was looking for.

Not only is the site very intuitive to use and user friendly, they have the option of either going with a video tutorial or reading the transcripts. I've been going through as many tutorials that I could find and already I have a lot more thing that I have to do on my list.

I'll be posting on how my learning went and what I got out of it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Self Publishing Ready Reckoner

In my research into getting as thorough a background on self publishing as I could, I recently came across this book - Self Publishing Books 101 by Shelly Hitz. I specifically want to write about this book because it is one of the best books that I have read on the subject of self publishing, and it's so short that you can get through it in less than an hour.

Now if you're the sort of person whose interested in good English prose, then this may not be your cup of tea. To be perfectly frank, I felt that the author kept repeating information throughout the book. And I don't get what's with the constant upsell for CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, comes first in almost anyone's list and probably doesn't require any upsell from anyone. The book leaves you wondering why the author does this because it seems quite a stretch to think that she's actually getting something out of promoting CreateSpace.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a professional book critic and I should probably be the last person to be criticizing any piece of literature, but in the interests of giving an honest review, I'm just writing down what struck me, and the impression that I came away with was that there is a lot of useful stuff in the book, but the book as such could do with a little more polishing.

And this is where I come to what I want to tell you all, which is that there really is a lot of good stuff in the book. It gives you all the information that you will want to know as a first time self-publisher, and you get it all quickly. You don't have to go through 200 pages of in-depth analysis, because you really don't need it. All you want is general information and that's what this book gives you.

I'm sure that no self respecting author (and I consider myself one) will ever just follow instructions given by another author without checking for themselves. In fact, most of the information available in the book is also freely available online. All you need is some time and you can get all the information that you want from your browser itself.

The problem is that until you publish your first book, you really don't know what to search for. You find the answers to one set of questions only to find another set of questions cropping up. This book is a sort of ready reckoner that gives you all the information in one place.

The parts that I really liked were the ones that gave me pricing details on how much it costs for everything. In fact, the author goes on to say how she published her first book for $7, and that too only because she bought her first copy herself. She tells you how you can basically publish your book without spending a dime for it, and as an author who doesn't have too much of cash lying around, this is very important to me.

You also get a lot of down to Earth advice on what you need to do to get your book published, and how you can format it. You also get a number of templates that the author gives for free if you are willing to subscribe to her newsletter, but then she tells you how to do it yourself. So unless you're really lazy, you don't even need to download the template.

Also the author gives you options on free software that you can use. Once again, this is in the interests of saving you money.

Granted, the book does not give you any in-depth details and barely skims the surface, but I really don't
need anything more. It did a good job of showing me the way, and I've been able to follow up on it.

For example the suggestion to use free software prompted me to do a bit of researching into the subject and it opened a whole new world up for me. I'll write about this later, but you get my meaning, right?

The book does not do any hand-holding. What it does is point you in the right direction and give you a shove.

And who could ask for anything more?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should I send my book to a publisher?

Most die-hard self publishers will probably tell you an emphatic NO to this. Being a pragmatist, let us consider the merits of this question.

Why does a person send their work to a publisher? To get published of course.

Even in this day and age where self publishers have a lot going for them, not too many of them manage to make the kind of sales that the regular publishers do. So while self publishing may give you 10,000 sales with a 70% royalty on sales price, a publisher may manage 100,000 books sold with a 15% - 20% royalty on it. Ultimately the amount of money you make is probably the same. Of course you may very well sell 100,000 copies when you self publish, but not too many can hit this mark. I'm just being a realist without putting anyone or their work down.

So if it isn't the money, then why would you want to send your book to a publisher?

Whether you believe it or not, a publisher has his uses. Many of them will give you feedback on how you can improve your writing, or where they think you've got it wrong. Now this feedback may or may not be right, and it is after all their impression, but considering that their job relies on them finding a hot selling book, putting in some careful thought into their feedback will only benefit you.

Not all publishers do this, but then, everything comes down to your approach and how you interact with them. Even those who don't have a lot of time will still at least give you a one or two line feedback that will give you an industry person's perspective on your work.

This is important because I believe that before you go the self publishing route, you need to ask as many people as you can to go through it and give you their feedback. And the wider your sample size, the better the nature of your feedback. If you include a publisher or two into the mix, you'll have a lot of solid data that you can use to fine tune your book before you self publish.

Self publishing is a gamble where you throw the dice hoping for a 6. Doing this sampling just ensures that you have a better chance of hitting this than if you don't. That's all.

Once again, this is just my opinion, and there may be a number of people with different opinions. That's ok. Like I said, self publishing is a gamble and each person has their own way of trying to beat the odds. I think that this is a good idea which is why I'm telling you about it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to choose what to write on?

Each author is unique and each one has their own way, not only of writing, but of approaching the whole writing thing. There are some who decide on the title first and then start on the book. Others write the book and then put in a title that makes sense. Still others keep changing both their initial title and the body of the text itself.

And there are probably as many different ways of writing as there are authors out there. I am therefore going to tell you how I chose what to write on because that's the only thing that I can talk about.

Actually the decision for me to write my own book was not a difficult one to make. I've been writing for more than 5 years, although what I concentrated on was on website content. Here and there I did take up book writing projects, mostly for sale on Amazon. One of the unfortunate things with being a ghostwriter is that you don't retain any rights to your book and the buyer can pretty much do anything he or she wants with it. And so the title that I put in them may not be the same ones under which they are sold, nor can I even say that the body of the book will remain the same. It could very well have gone through innumerable edits/changes. I just didn't know.

So for a long time I really didn't know how good or bad a writer I was.

And then I wrote a book for a person who actually gave me feedback. He was a publisher and after I finished my book, he came back to me with just one request for edit, and that was to shorten my introduction a bit. Beyond that he was very happy with the book and told me that he has never had an author edit and proof their work so well that he did not have to do it himself.

Now this kind of feedback will obviously lift you up somewhat. I was on cloud 9 for a couple of days until I came back to Earth with a bump. And the bump was that I may be the very best writer out there, but it's not going to do me a bit of good till such a time as I write and publish under my own name.

And this is what prompted me to start writing a book. At this stage, there were a number of thoughts running in my mind on what to write on, and I hadn't decided on anything till I got an inquiry for a ghostwriting project to write a book on Diabetes. I did some research on the subject first before responding and what I found was fascinating.

The contract did not come through, but I had all the notes that I had made, and the subject also fascinated me. I've never been very interested in diabetes although there's been a history of the disease on both my parents' side. My first brush with reality came with my first child when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It wasn't very high, but I had a tough time managing my sugar levels just with diet and exercise.

Now, I'm having my second child, and I've once again been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This time however, it's much easier because I know more about the problem. Also I started being careful 5 yrs ago when I had my first child and this is paying me rich dividends now.

And unlike the last time, I still do have sugar, I have ice creams, chocolates and everything else that I want to eat. I just ensure that I manage my sugar intake in such a manner that my blood sugar does not spike to dangerous levels. And as of now (I'm in my 7th month) I've been fairly successful.

Anyway, that's beside the point. My decision to write the book was made at a time when my second child was not even a thought in either mine or my husband's minds. And the reason why I decided to write it is because so many people in my family have high blood sugar.

They all take medication as though it's a sort of panacea for their disease. You know, there's a world of difference between taking a pill because you feel a fever coming on, and you taking a pill because you feel that you blood sugar is going up. All of them know the dangers of having disease, including the long term effects, but for some reason the math just doesn't add up in their heads.

It's come to a point where they pop a pill when their blood sugar levels increase. And if it increases some more, that's no problem, there's the insulin pump which solves all problems. In fact these days people prefer the insulin pump to pills because it helps them manage their problem quite well. It's like technology is a replacement for good old fashioned common sense, and that technology solves all problems, including health related ones.

And this attitude isn't strange, nor is it rare. And I thought that the reason for this attitude is a lack of knowledge on the subject. And my idea is that if I can explain the why's and the what's of the disease, and if it helps even 10 people, I'd be happy.

I'm not saying that I don't want my book to be successful. Not at all. I'd be really thrilled if it became a best seller. But that is not in my hands. What is, is writing the best book on diabetes that I possibly can, and that's what I'm concentrating on doing right now.

If any of you have any questions, either on writing or on diabetes in general, please do leave a comment and I'll answer to the best of my ability. Maybe it will also help me identify a few more chapters that I need to include in my book. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Organizing my writing schedule

One of the most common problems that writers face is in organizing their writing schedule. Unless you have a schedule, you won't get any work done on time, but having a schedule means that you can basically call upon your writing “mood” whenever you are of a mind to.

I understand this very well. I've been writing for so long that I've probably gone through most phases that a writer possibly can. There have been days when my output will be twice that of any normal day while at the same time there have been days when I hardly get any work done.

Over the years though I've reached a sort of equilibrium point with regards to my writing. For so many years, my writing has been contract, work for hire. This means that I get paid only on the completion of a contract or when I send in so many articles of so many words each.

And just like any other job, I will have deadlines to adhere to and quality standards to meet. And unlike a regular job where a bad day means a shelling from your boss, for me it meant no income. A lost day means lost $$.

When you start working like this, you tend to structure your work so that you can accomplish so much per week. You start organizing your work so that you can be more effective with your time, than just working longer or harder.

This is not to say that I haven't done it. I have. But very soon I found that this just wasn't going to work. Not only did I not have time for my family, but my work too started to suffer. And when you're a contract worker, your work quality is of paramount importance. If it drops, you get dropped.

I believe that everyone needs to reach their equilibrium position. What this is, only you can find out. And the only way to find out is by writing.

I know that this advice seems a little weird, but in truth, it isn't. It's like cycling, or driving, or pretty much anything else. The only way for you to learn to do something is for you to actually do it. The analogy may not seem apt, but just think; you may very well have have been driving for years, even decades, but if you've only ever done short drives, nothing is going to prepare you for a drive of a few thousand miles. This doesn't mean that you don't know how to drive, just that driving a few hours a day is a whole different ball game from you driving day in and day out, weeks or months on end.

So a hobbyist driver may drive when the “mood” strikes him or her. The professional writer cannot afford to. Whether they can call upon this “mood” whenever they need it or they find some other way, the bottom line is that they DO find a way.

And what is my way?

Before I start writing, I sit quietly for a few minutes. Sometimes I read verses from the Bible, other times I just introspect. What I am looking for is for my mind to calm down.

If you think that this is easy, let me tell you, it isn't. I don't know about you, but for me, most of my peace of mind went out the window when I got married, and whatever little bit remained, I lost when I had my kid.

Don't take me wrong, I'm not bemoaning my lot in life. Not at all. It just isn't easy.

But I try, and I keep trying. And over time, I've reached a sort of equilibrium which means that I'm not at the positive extreme, but I'm certainly not at the negative extreme either.

Your position may seem very different from mine, but if you cut down to brass tacks, it isn't. The reason why you aren't able to get any work done is because you have a hundred other things going on inside your head. Your mind is constantly spinning at full speed and slowing it down takes a conscious effort of will.

This is what the experienced writer has that a novice doesn't. And what I have found out is that my best work comes out only when my mind is calm.

So before you open a calendar and organize a schedule, find out what your equilibrium position is. You may want to get through a hundred pages a day, but you should first find out if you can. There's no point in just setting yourself up for failure. At the same time there's no sense in you just jotting something down when the fancy takes you.

I've had my say, and now you can. I'd like to hear what you writers have to say about how you do your writing, and if there are any tips that you can give.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How to train virtual assistants

Virtual Assistants are a God send to many, but most of us have to go through scores of people before we identify that one person that we can work with. The reason for this is that most of us do not understand how to work with virtual assistants and that there is a certain amount of training involved before they can start working to our expectations. VA's are not a software plugin that will start functioning as soon as you hire them. They need just as much hand holding as any normal hire would and I recently found a really good article on the subject in Chris Ducker's blog. I condensed it into bullet points for my reference and thought that I'll share it with you too.

How to train a VA.

1. Define a role – Tasks are different from Role and you need to hire for the role. Make sure that you understand EXACTLY what you need out of your VA before you start looking for one. Below we give you a few questions that will help you identify your VA.

What are the core responsibilities of the role that the VA will fill?

What skills or traits does he or she need to properly fill the role.

How will you measure success within this role?

2. Setting expectations – Expectations need to be set right at the very beginning and just as you will have expectations out of your VA, he/she too will have some of you. Below we give you a few things that you need to consider for this.

When will you pay – weekly, biweekly, monthly or at the completion of a project?

How much will you pay?

How will you track progress?

What is the response time that you expect for communication with your VA?

What will you do if the work is sub-standard?

3. Train, don't assume.
Make sure that you give your VA all the training that he/she will need in order to fulfill the role. Don't
rely on their common sense or ability to connect the dots to perform. All instructions should be clear, concise, detailed and easily understood.
Don't assume that they will ask for help if they don't understand anything – one of the biggest grouches with VA's.

4. Give written instructions.

Use plenty of bullet points.

Have one objective per email.

Use screenshots and links to give examples of what you need done.

5. Use audio recordings.

Be concise. Avoid rambling.

Create separate recordings for separate subjects, instructions, tasks etc.

Label each recording precisely.

6. Use video recordings.
This is the best way to train VA's because the combination of visual and audio instructions leaves very little room for confusion.

You can train at your own time without worrying about scheduling conflicts.

Each video will add to the overall training material which can be used to train future VA's.

Search on YouTube before you create your own video. You may find what you are looking for there.

7. Identify repetitive tasks.

Create a simple process flowchart that details what the VA needs to do.

8. Create an IFTTT cheat sheet (IF That happens, Then This)

Have a set of standard protocols to be followed for the most common situations that may arise.

9. Have clearly defined goals and needs.

The VA should save you time and money by taking some work out of your hands, not increase it by forcing you to micromanage them.

Once you invest in a little time to train your VA, then many of the problems that you will face as an employer will be minimized if not eliminated. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Will I need to have my book copyrighted?

The copyright conundrum is one of the biggest problems for people when they think of self-publishing. Most authors self publish with the hope of doing well in the market, and they really don't want somebody ripping off their work and publishing it under another name.

And yet, how many authors actually go to the extent of copyrighting their book.

Before we go into this, let's start at the basics. Is copyrighting my book really necessary? What will happen if I don't copyright it?

The short answer to this is that the copyright law just says out aloud, whatever is implied when you put your work forward for sale. When you write a book and publish it, you imply that this book is your own work and that you have not (deliberately at least) taken content out of another person's work. And if you have done this, then you at least have the grace to acknowledge the help that these other sources have been to you.

The copyrighting just ensures that you have a legal document to this effect. There is just one problem with this though. While a number of countries are ok with you having an implicit copyright, other countries are not. In fact, countries like the U.K, Australia and New Zealand don't even have a method to register your work and it is considered an automatic right. Other countries such as the U.S.A require that you register with the United States Copyright Office if you want to bring a claim in a US court.
So the final decision on whether you want to copyright or not rests with you. The only advice that we can give you is that you check what the particular law is with respects to your country and follow it.

There are however some things that you can do to keep yourself safe from copyright infringement even if you don't register your work and we explain this in detail in “How do I copyright my work?

How do I copyright my work?

Strictly speaking, copyrighting your work is not at all difficult. Basically, when you do some work, and you can prove somehow when exactly you did the work, this is sufficient. This means that all published work has copyright, even if you don't register your work.

In the case of unpublished work, some other method that can prove the date of completion of the work will do. Sealing up the manuscript and mailing it to yourself is probably the easiest way to do this and is called the poor man's copyright. Of course you need to keep it sealed and with the postmark because that is where the date will be.

You can also show it to friends and family and get them to sign on it with the date mentioned. As long as they can verify that the signature is theirs and that the book has not been tampered with, this too will suffice.

Submitting your work to the British Library so that they have a copy as part of their record of all published work is another idea. This can be done only with published work and within one month of publication.

Another simple way is to use the © Copyright symbol in the book. The use of the symbol shows that you understand what the copyright law is and that you are willing to protect your work. You can also include a short sentence after the symbol, explaining this in lay man's terms.

“© 2013, [your name]. Except as provided by the Copyright Act [date, etc.] no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.” is the simplest and most common format followed. The wording can and is altered by publishers, but the basic format remains the same.

Using a registration service is another way, although this may entail a certain amount of expenditure. How much and whether this is a one-time expenditure or a recurring one depends on the agency you go with and how comprehensive the copyright is that you are getting.

You can also directly register your work, such as at the US Copyright Office, where they allow you to upload a soft copy of your work. As mentioned in a previous article, this may not be possible in all countries though because some don't even have a method to do so.

Please do not use this article as the basis for making your decision on whether you want to obtain copyright or not. Laws in each country differ, and knowing the law of your land is important if you want to protect your work in court in the future.

Note: Copyright only protects the author's expression in whatever form he chooses to. It does not protect any idea, system, method, or even title. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Is having a well designed cover and illustration important?

If you have a book that you want to publish, there are two ways to do this. One is to go the traditional route and try to get a publisher interested in it. If this happens, you basically lose all control over your book, and the publishers take over everything connected to bringing the book to the market.

The other option is for you to go the self publishing route and in this case, you wonder whether there is any reason for you to spend any money in getting a good cover done for your book and include good illustrations on the inside.

Granted, self publishing doesn't cost too much money, but this doesn't mean that you won't have any expense. Especially if you are hoping for a good reception for your book.

Already you would have spent some money in getting a good editor to edit and proofread your book, and when it comes to cover design and illustration on the inside, you start to think if all this expense is worth it.

This is a difficult question to answer because there have been quite a few best sellers who never had either. There was no cover design to speak of, except perhaps different colors used for the title on the cover. And there were no illustrations or photos or visuals of any sort to relieve the monotony of the written content, on the inside.

This proves that a good book can and will sell, even without the frills.

Does this mean that you go this route?

I can't answer for everybody, but my opinion on this is that you should not risk it. Do a good cover and include visuals on the inside, whether they be simple charts, or pictures or diagrams or anything else that will break up the written content.

There are a few reasons for my saying this.

Firstly, science has proven that visuals do matter a lot. The old adage that one picture is equal to a thousand words still holds true and visuals really do matter.

Secondly, the cover is the only thing on the book that a person sees first. However great the content on the inside is, you need something to draw people to your book and get them to glance inside. Once they do this, the weight of your content will carry you through, but you still need that initial something to draw them in, and this is what the cover will do for you. Having a well designed cover that captures the interest of the reader will give you that initial push with regards to sales that every author is looking for.

Lastly, your book is a reflection of who you are, and just as your external appearance matters, so does the external cover for your book. You don't want people to start thinking that if you aren't interested enough to get a good cover done on your book, then how much effort would you have put into the content inside, do you?

Now this may be absolutely the farthest thing from the truth, but this is the impression that most people will get in their minds. Whether you believe it or not, most people are attracted by visuals, and ensuring that you have a good cover just means that you get more people to browse through the pages inside.

Of course, not everyone thinks the same, and some others may have different views on the subject. That's all right with me. I'm just giving my opinion for what it's worth, and if it helps anyone, then it's all to the good.

What are the usual problems faced by first time authors and what can you do about it?

Writing is not new for anybody. You spend 15 – 18 yrs doing nothing else in school.

Writing articles and other short stories too is not difficult. You write essays in school and articles are not that very different.

My belief is that anyone can write. You are conditioned to write since a very young age, and the more imaginative and inventive you were with your answers in school, the easier it is to write once you're grown up.

Of course, writing a book is a whole different ball game, but my point isn't to tell you that it is easy. Just that if you feel that you've absolutely no experience in writing, you're wrong. You do have. Quite a bit in fact.

And herein comes the biggest problem faced by first time authors – that they are not too confident about their writing ability. They don't feel that they can write well. They just think that they can. And there's a big difference between the two.

When you think that you're good, you're basically rationalizing the whole writing thing. On the other hand, when you feel that you're good, you know that you are. You may make mistakes, you may receive criticisms from others, but this will not alter the fact that you know that you can write well. You take the criticisms and come back stronger. You understand that mistakes are just what they are – mistakes. An error. An accident. Nothing more.

And you come back stronger the next time round.

So you have to feel deep within you that you can do it.

This kind of confidence comes only with one thing – success.

I know, it sounds like I'm giving you 10 different kinds of hogwash here, but it's true. The only way you will ever get the sort of confidence that you need to write your own book is if you have already met with success. The point is that this success need not be with other books.

And here we come to the next point that I am about to make. Don't start off with a book. Start small. Maybe you can create and maintain a blog or even guest post on other blogs. You can write informative articles that you can try to get published in your local newspaper or enewspaper. Or you can take up freelance writing work. Or ...

There are a number of things that you can do to start writing in a small way. Doing this helps you in two ways.

One, it gives you experience, which is just one word for “what readers expect in written content”.

Two, it removes a lot of the “romance” from writing. When you write professionally, you write on anything that you have to. You don't have the luxury of choice. This may sound a little weird, especially as I started off by saying that you need confidence, but doing this will ensure that you have both feet firmly planted on the ground when you write your book.

When you figure both these out and know that you are doing a fairly descent job for others, then you know that you can do as good a job, if not better, for yourself.

This may sound more like a five year plan, than one in which you spend a weekend writing a book and a couple of hours on Monday in publishing it, but it all boils down to how good you want to be. If you're interested in creating a name or a brand, it takes both hard work and time. It may be possible for you to shorten the time element a little by putting in a lot more hard work, but there is no substitute for trust, and trust is only gained with time.

And while talking about trust, I come to the third thing on my list, which is competency. Many authors don't think about a very important concept – VFM (Value For Money). Unfortunately, the whole world of commerce revolves round this concept. Nobody buys anything unless they find value in it, and they are definitely not going to recommend it to anyone else unless they find more value in it than the cost that they are paying for it. Many authors seem to think that because they are pricing their books at a dirt cheap “couple of dollars”, nobody should complain if their writing is not up to the level of books that sell for many times more.

Unfortunately readers invest not just their money, which may not even matter to them. They invest their time in reading your work, and in this day and age, time is more valuable than money. If they feel that they have just wasted so many hours of their time in reading your book, they aren't going to be happy.

And with the advent of social media, they aren't reticent about letting the whole world know exactly what they think of a person who does this to them.

Make sure that you give your readers value. Even if it is only fiction, and meant only for leisure reading, you have to make sure that they feel that their time has been spent well. Miss this and things are going to turn nasty on you.

The next thing that I want to give you is just a piece of commonsensical advice. However confident you feel in your own ability, take advice from as many people as you can. Of course, you don't have to follow it all, but getting 20 different points of view gives you a much broader horizon of view than 5.

Most first time authors just ask their family and friends, and decide that their manuscript is good enough to become a best seller. My point is that you need more variety in people who offer you advice.

Why do I say this?

Different people are different. They have different preferences and different tastes. If you want your book to be successful, you need as many of these different types of people to like your book as possible to ensure that you cast your net as widely as possible.

And how are you going to know the preferences of different types of people unless you talk to them and find out what their preferences are?

And lastly, I say, do your best. Writing is not a race where one person wins and everyone else loses. There's enough space for everyone up there if you are willing to sweat it out. Don't ever publish something that you are less than satisfied with because not only does it ensure that your book will fail, but you are spoiling your chances of future success too because past reviews can affect present books, just as how present reviews can affect past ones.

Tips on how to write your book

Ever since Amazon made it easy for people to publish their own work, self publishing has become a viable option for authors to write and publish their own work. Self publishing has become a hit with authors because when compared to traditional publishers, not only are the quality requirements of the work much more lax (There really isn't any. You can publish whatever you want as long as it meets the basics of ethical, moral and regional laws.), the author's share of the income pie is also much larger. Most self publishing platforms give the author up to 75% of the sales price as long as it meets certain requirements. Compare this to 15% by traditional publishers.

The problem is that, because there are no “quality requirements”, almost anybody can publish anything that they wish. This has ensured that if you go online and search for books in a certain niche, you get everything from utter nonsense, to really good work. You will however have to sift through the chaff for the wheat, and with more and more authors entering the scene, the sifting is getting more and more difficult.

There's nothing much that you can do about this, and if you are sure that you want to self publish, there's really no reason for you not to. You do however have to keep some things in mind because if not, you are just setting yourself up for failure.

Every author has a different style of writing, and I am not going to give you advice on how you go about the actual “writing”. What I am going to do instead is give you a guideline on what you have to keep in mind when you write your book.

One of the first things you do before you even start, is to know “what” you're going to write about. You cannot write on a topic that you don't know anything about, and especially if you are a first time author, it is very important that you stick to a topic that you are familiar with. Writing a book is hard enough without you taking on the added difficulty of choosing a topic on which you know nothing about.

This is the reason why most first time authors generally write fiction. It's the safest bet, and especially if it is romantic fiction which is perennially popular, is much easier to write than one that involves a deep plot.

One of the best ways to go about doing this is to jot down points as they occur to you. For me personally, this happens over a period of time. I even get ideas on topics to write on, while I write the book. I generally jot it down and periodically review it to ensure that I have covered everything that I wanted to.

Another advantage of this is that an idea for a chapter may strike you, but you may not know anything about it. Jotting it down ensures that you will do your research beforehand so that you get more familiar with the topic. More questions will occur to you as you look for answers to your first one, and slowly you build up on your knowledge on a subject.

Once you reach a point where you either don't have any questions or you are able to answer them all, it's time to start writing your book.

Don't however make the mistake of thinking that this will be your final version. My way is to never go back and read through what I have written till I've finished a couple of chapters. This ensures that I get everything down quickly, before I forget it. Also reviewing my work breaks my involvement in my writing and I don't want to do this.

When I read through it later, I edit both the style and the content to give it the flow that all books require. This may be anything from just correcting spelling and grammar mistakes to rearranging the content so that it reads well. And every single time, one single edit is never enough. You find mistakes, or a better way to express an idea each time you read your work, and you have to edit your book when this happens. You never stop till you feel that there is nothing more that you can do for the book.

When it comes to the actual writing, there are different styles that different people use. This is what differentiates authors. But whatever style you use, you have to make sure that the reading is easy.
For example, some people like to take you one step at a time, while others will start at the end and then go back to the beginning. It's not a question of which one is better, but in how well you use that technique.

Which style would be suitable for you? That's a question that only you can answer. For me personally, I take different styles and different voices for different subjects. But this is not consciously done. Before I start to write, I just sit quietly and imagine how I want my book to be. This gives me my introduction. Once I get my introduction, everything flows naturally from it.

To be honest, it isn't as easy as I tell it. In the beginning I used to struggle a bit, but with a bit of experience I found that it is only when I force my writing that I get into trouble. When I sit quietly and just think about what I want to write, I invariably get an idea. From then, it's only a matter of sticking to the blueprint that I have in my mind, and everything else just comes naturally.

Of course many of you may say that this “flowing naturally” thing just doesn't come to them. But let me tell you something. I know a person who has never written before. She used to help me now and then with research work and that's about it. One day, I needed help in finishing content for a website that I was developing content for, and I asked her to help me. Since it was about cooking which she is interested in, she said ok.

And the articles that she turned in were really really good. They were better than anything that I could have done, and this with absolutely no experience whatsoever. I received really good reviews for her work which prompted me to use her another time when I needed help with something else.
This time, the work was so bad that I had to almost completely rewrite them.

My point is that people give you really good work when they are interested in what they are doing. When they aren't, then their work suffers. This is true, not only of writing, but of almost any work that you care to name.

When it comes to writing, this is doubly important because unless you are yourself interested in what you're writing about, how can you get someone else interested? Basically, the only way for you to ensure the reader's involvement is to ensure the author's involvement when writing.

Once you finish the book to your satisfaction, do a bit of researching into the self-publishing theme. This way you know the basics of what you need to do to market your book so that you get at least those 10 or 20 sales initially. Good reviews by these will hopefully translate to future sales which is what you are looking for.

I know that the ideas given here are very general ones, but no one can give you more specific advice than this. If they do, then they are stifling you. You end up trying to write someone else's version of your book rather than yours, and this route is not one that you should be following.

Until now authors didn't have a choice and had to follow publishers' recommendations/guidelines/orders. Now, when you're self-publishing, there's no real reason for you not to turn in your work.

Your best one of course!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Is my book good enough?


This is one of the biggest questions facing authors when they think of publishing their work. No author in his or her right mind will send anything for publication if they themselves aren't satisfied with what they have done. Yet, is it sufficient for the author to be happy? How exactly does one decide that their work is good for publication?

This is a very tough question to answer because it deals with measurement, and any measurement needs a yardstick for comparison. You won't know how much a centimeter is without knowing how much a millimeter is and each one builds on the previous so to speak.

So what is the yardstick for measuring if your work is good enough?

Is it acceptance by publishing companies? Does this mean that authors who have been refused by publishers aren't good enough? If that is the case, what of John Grisham whose first book was refused by publishers who then changed their mind when he self published and met with roaring success?

There are many such examples of authors who have met with success after being declined by publishers. So obviously this isn't the yardstick that we should use.

Is it feedback by friends and family? If so, is there any chance that your family will actually tell you the truth as it is? They may push you to self publish even if they feel that the book isn't what it should be, just to spare your feelings. Of course, each family is different, but I'm just averaging here. Getting honest, constructive feedback from family and close friends isn't that easy.

So what exactly do you use as a yardstick to measure your work against?

There's no right or wrong answer to this and if you read posts by published authors, each one has a different take on this. My personal feeling is that publishing your work is a risk – like how marriage is a risk. You will never know till you give it a try.

How are you going to know if your book is good or not. Simply by publishing it and then finding out for sure. Till that time, you will never know, and whatever you feel is just that – your feeling.

The only thing that anyone can expect is that they have the right attitude when they enter into the self publishing world. And the right attitude means that you don't give up, and you keep learning constantly. You don't give up at the first sign of failure, and you constantly learn because only then will you evolve, both as a person and as an author. And only if you evolve, will you be able to improve your writing.

Writing takes more than just skill. A computer has skill and it can probably spit out better language and grammar than you can. But a computer cannot write a book, and the difference is that an author's writing is colored not only by his or her experiences, but by their learning from it. What differentiates a great author from an average one is in the amount of insight that they have into the common everyday lives of people.

And please remember two things.

You cannot please everybody. Even a best seller like J.K. Rowling has her detractors.

Know your target market. If you are writing for teenagers, don't expect middle aged people to like it. If they do, then good for you, but you should know who you need to like your work.

Beyond this, there is simply no advice that anyone can give you apart from “Take the leap”. There have been too many cases of people belittling someone's work and then finding that it is a roaring success for me to give you any tips or yardsticks for you to measure your work against.

The only word of advice that I will give you will be this;

Be prepared. Do your homework. Know what you are getting into and find out as much as you can so that you don't leave any page unturned when it comes to your book, such as not marketing it properly for example.

Success or failure is not in your hand. So don't try to predict or control it. Control what you do have in your hand which is getting out a great product and doing everything that you possibly can.

Success is just a by-product of hard work, not an expectation of it.

Good news for self publishers

Although skepticism for self publishing is at its highest, the number of self published books are also at their highest. The news is very upbeat and this week there is a lot of interesting information for self publishers.

A few important steps that are overlooked by self publishers. This article may not be comprehensive, but it definitely gives you those overlooked points that it is well worth considering. And go through the comments too. There's some interesting information there too.

Amazon CreateSpace or Ingram. This is not an easy question to answer, but if you want to know an author's view point, then this article makes a great read. Jana Riess tells you like it is when it comes you you trying to self publish your work through either platform.

A great way to get printed hard covers even if you self-publish. Usually, when you self publish, you make do with the simple printed copies that popular platforms offer you. But now all that is going to change, with a company offering to foil stamp the cover for your book!

Interview with Jon P Fine - Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon. A good perspective on self publishing from a person in the industry.

Should I write an ebook?


Whenever we say self publishing, we are thinking of a book. Nobody feels that publishing a post on a blog or writing an article is publishing, although the button that you press (or at least the one that I press because I use wordpress) is “Publish”.

So let's talk about publishing an ebook? Should you publish an ebook?

That's a very interesting question. Nowadays, with self publishing becoming very easy, many, many authors are going the self publishing route. They write an ebook and either publish online or publish traditionally with a limited run of copies which they pay for, themselves.

Either way, they are self publishing. The only difference is in the money spent and the route taken.
Does this mean that we should all self-publish an ebook?

I don't want to get into a fire-fight here, and I too am currently in the process of writing an ebook that I will be self-publishing in the near future, but the answer to this is that you need to think long and hard about it.

Why?

Let me put it this way. Would you do something just because it is easy to do or because it doesn't cost too much to do? No, right? It's the same thing with writing an ebook. You don't write one just because it is easy to publish or because it doesn't cost you a dime. You write it because you really really want to.

Why is this important? Because, your writing is a reflection of your soul. Can anybody write when their heart is not in what they are doing? How good will such writing be, and would you want to read stuff by another person whose motivation for writing is suspect?

However corny it may sound, when you write something when your heart isn't in it, it just doesn't come out right. You may be able to get the language right, and get all of the facts down, but something will be lacking in it and this is very apparent to the reader. Yet, write something that you are really interested in, and even if your language and grammar is poor, you'll find that a number of people actually like reading what you write.

It's hard to define this because it's just a feeling that people have when they read your work. Every person leaves their stamp on their work, and this isn't the tone of voice that they take or the style that they use. It's what differentiates one writer from another, and you can never get this in your work unless you are really passionate about what you're doing.

Passion for writing doesn't ensure success, but it ensures that you will constantly want to improve on your work. You will never be willing to accept anything less than your best, and only this will ensure that what you get out there has a reasonably good chance of succeeding.

So if you have an idea to write an ebook, look within yourself first. Why do you want to write? What do you want to write about? Why do you want to write about whatever it is that you want to write about?

Think long and hard!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How successful will I be if I self publish?


There are many reasons why a person can self publish. Research seems to indicate that most self publishers are more than aware that they may not hit the jackpot with their book, but do it anyway because it brings them satisfaction. What's more, they would do it again too.

Yet, there's that small part within us that wants our book to do well. It's all very good to say that we aren't bothered about the numbers, but it still has a pleasant ring to it when we say, “I just sold a hundred thousand copies”. Who wouldn't want to be in that position?

So just how successful will you be if you go the self publishing route?

There's no easy answer to this question because there's a lot of “depends” in it. For example, how many copies you sell “depends” on how many people hear about you. It also “depends” on the number of years that you put your book out there. And of course it “depends” on how good your book is.

Granted, these may be obvious, but there are a number of factors that aren't. For example, if you are exploring the self publishing route, then you'd definitely have heard of the book “50 shades of grey” by Erika Leonard. She has sold more than 70 million copies of the 50 shades trilogy and is hailed as the most successful self published author in our times. Yet, there are a few things that were factors in her success that most of us don't know.

Erika Leonard did not start off by writing a book. She started off by writing a blog where she published short fiction stories. She wrote the book only after her blog had attracted a number of loyal readers who commented favorably about her writing. And when she published her book, she had a ready lot of people who were willing to buy her book and give it that initial boost that all of us want. The rest, as they say, is history.

Most of us, including me for that matter, concentrate so much on writing the book, that we don't realize that the only way a book is going to be successful is if the people out there know that we have a book for sale. We concentrate so much on making the book available, that we don't stop for a moment to think that this is not enough. We have to make people aware of it.

This is where traditional publishers have the upper hand. They have the financial clout to ensure that they smother the market. And if the book is any good, this alone will ensure its success.

What we, as self publishers have to do is to spend a bit of time in building up to our book. Just having friends and family buy our book is not enough. How many of us can count on at least 20 people who will purchase our books? We need more people to buy our book and leave a good remark or rating so that others will buy it too. And the only way to do this is to create a “fan following”.

Doing this serves two purposes;

1. It gives that initial push that all of us need.

2. It gives us an idea of how good our writing is. If we get people who return to our blogs because they like our writing, then we know for a fact that we are, in the least, better than average. No hits means that there's still a lot of work ahead of us before we can think of bringing forth that book from our head into the screen.

Of course 70 million is a huge number and is a tough number to break. I'm not saying that this kind of success awaits all of us. Definitely not. What I am saying is that this will ensure that we get at least a few hundred copies sold in the initial few months which will hopefully translate to a few thousand copies.

This will give you the confidence as well as the experience to write another one which will hopefully do much better than the first one, and that's how you get started on the ladder which leads to success.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Weekly summary

So here's a summary of the interesting happenings from last week (Jan 19 – 25). I didn't make a post the week before that because there just wasn't much happening out there, but this week's entirely different.
Self publishing may still be only in its nascent stage, but need I say anything about any platform that enables an author to earn THAT much money. Amazon and Kindle have totally changed the face of publishing; perhaps forever.
Amazon has started a new publishing branch catered specifically to the Christian publishing industry. With this it looks like Amazon has a finger in every single pie out there.
Whether you're a publisher, a published author or a wanna be one, this webcast is a must attend. If you're a publisher you'll learn why authors want to self publish, and if you're an author, you'll learn the benefits and negatives of going it both ways.
Finnish author Helena Halme gives you tips on how you can use your own life to write a fictional novel. Her tips are good, so good that you know that they are from experience.
Most self publishers don't do anything about copyrighting their books. Many of them don't know if self publishing is the best route for them in the first place. This and more is discussed here. A must read for anyone who is interested in self publishing.
A good interview with an author who's done it all. She's been a published author for more than 20 yrs and then turned to self publishing. Read about her journey with self publishing.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How do I deal with writer's block?

If you're an experienced writer, you know how to deal with writer's block. It's only new writers who have this problem because, writing is just like any other job. It's a JOB. And this implies that you have to work at it.
Of course, you'll hear stuff like how if you're doing something that you love doing, then the doing is much easier. Granted, it's not as much of a chore, but what many people don't seem to realize is that easier does not mean easy. Writing is not easy, not for me, not for you, and not for the best writers in the world.
Top authors sometimes spend years researching their topic before they even start writing! So if you think that you can start writing now and complete writing a book in a week's time, you're sadly mistaken.
Writer's block takes many forms and I'm not here to discuss all the different types. What I'm going to do is tell you what I do, and maybe some of you will get something out of it.
For me personally, writing comes out best when my mind is calm. I'm not talking about the Yogic, deep pool stillness kind of calm. Just the everyday calmness that you get after a good night's sleep. Mostly I wake up in a very good mood, and something external has to happen to spoil it. Unfortunately when you're married and have a 5 yr old, there's enough and more opportunities for you to loose it.
And what I try to do is to minimize anything that will trouble me. I make sure that everything is ready and packed for my daughter the previous day and wake her up at the last minute so that she just doesn't have the time to argue about anything. I keep my conversation with my husband short and to the point so that there's no opportunity for any flare ups. The good thing is that he too likes to be left alone in the mornings, so this system actually works quite well.
Once I've sent my daughter off (my husband drops her off at school) I don't hurry. I usually take my time to start up my computer and log in, and what I've found is that at the most, the longest this takes me is 15 min. Of course, for many people 15 min is very valuable, but not so for me. This extra time ensures that I don't feel harried and I get to maintain as much of my morning's good mood as possible.
The next thing I do is to open up an online copy of the bible and read a chapter. I've found that this has a very calming effect on my mind. Once again, I don't hurry through the reading, but read through the chapter slowly, trying to absorb as much as I can. (I mention the bible because I'm a Christian, but any of the holy books should be just as useful. My view is that all religions preach the same thing)
I then spend a couple of minutes in contemplation. Many times, my mind is just a blank. Sometimes I get the thought that I've been a naughty girl. Ultimately, this introspection not only helps me in my personal life, it also ensures that when I start writing, I'm not thinking about anything else other than what I'm writing about.
Generally, I have an outline in my mind before I start writing. I know what ideas I want to express and in what order I have to present them in, so all that's left is for me to actually put finger to keyboard and it just comes flowing out.
Of course you get interruptions, your phone rings or somebody bangs on your front door. I try not to let any of this affect me, and if it means that I ignore a few calls, well then so be it. In fact, I don't even log into my email or facebook ID's because they are just another distraction for me.
The introduction is usually the easiest part for me, although I do have to do a couple of drafts before I end up with something that I'm happy with. And once I've got the introduction right, everything just falls into place.
The next day, I read through what I've done the previous day and try to get into the same frame of mind. This is important because your writing is just an extension of your ideas. It's just a medium for you to express yourself. So if your mind isn't right, then what you write too will not be.
As many people like to say, you need to write from your heart for which the first prerequisite is that your mind is calm enough for you to hear what your heart is saying. If your mind is operating at a thousand miles a second, there's no way you can hear anything in the midst of all that clamor.
Of course, the final product is still not the finished product. The more times you read through it, the better you will make it. And I keep doing this till I'm happy with what I've done. My logic is that if I'm not happy with what I've written, what are the chances that perfect strangers are going to be?
And this is how I try to ensure that I don't get to this writer's block thingy. And on those days when I do loose it, either because my daughter is just too much or I've got a bone to pick with my husband, I don't do any writing. There's no point really because I've tried working when my heart is not in it and I just delete the whole thing the next day.
In my experience, every writer knows whether they are a writer or not. They just know. It's not something that can be taught or even inspired. It's just something that you know.
This means that all the writing is inside of you somewhere, just waiting to come out. All you have to do is give it the opportunity, and it will.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The week's top articles on self publishing

If you're thinking of self publishing, this is the time to do it. 2013 was the best year for self publishers with the number of self publishers exceeding the numbers of traditionally published authors for the first time in history. And the projection for this year is even better.

I have compiled a list of articles that make good reading if you're interested in self publishing. From tips on how to self publish to success stories, it's all there. Hope you like it!

Self publishing to soar after 50 Shades' success
Ruth Lumley gives data on what people feel about self publishing and the most common books self published by authors.

How I do it: Kristen James shares the secrets of her self publishing success
Want to know how Kristen James does it. Well it's all laid out for you here. And right from the horse's mouth too!!

Blurb self publishing platform powers story album app on new Samsung Galaxy Note Pro & Tab Pro
Self publishing just gets easier and easier. Check out the latest PR release from Blurb to know how to design your own book using just your phone.

Self publishing: it takes a village
Lindsay Pyfer shares with us the time, effort and money that went into publishing a book.

GF Newman on self publishing: 'There are huge changes coming'
GF Newman shares with us his reasons for going the self publishing route and his take on the future of publishing as a whole.

Self publish your book in 2014... Here are 8 reasons why
Shawn Smucker gives us his take on why self publishing is the best way forward.

How to self publish your novel: 10 tips to producing an ebook
Author Laura Morgan - a first time self publisher shares her experience of self publishing her book.

Let me know what you think of the ideas mentioned in the different posts.