I’m excited, and I think this is the right place to write about it! As part of DIY Publishing Ltd we do websites primarily for authors.
My business partner, Kris, is a designer, and I’m the techie who has to make her designs a reality – well apart from the really crazy stuff which I just tell her to change! Over the years I’ve been using the same theme since it was called Catalyst – and is now Dynamik for Genesis. It’s a great theme, and incredibly flexible.
But it’s not the best if you want the super fancy graphic-heavy designs that today’s websites apparently must be. So I started investigating page builders – and discovered a plugin called Beaver Builder.
The thing with page builders is that they are a direct challenge to websites such as Weebly and Squarespace. These sites are very “pretty” and offer beginners the opportunity to design their own website using drag and drop. That’s the promise. The downside though is that you are tied down to their technology. You can’t expand beyond a website or blog – to say include product sales or event planning – without either paying them more money per a month for their ecommerce option, or finding that you’ve outgrown their platform.
I still love WordPress – because whatever you want it to be – there will be an extension, plugin or theme which will do it. But frankly some days – when trying to get a full-width image to scroll without mucking up the right-aligned top-menu, does my head in.
So enter Beaver Builder. It’s a page builder which allows you to do drag and drop . So far I’ve had a learning curve, but I’m liking the plugin more and more. It has a very active engaged community some of home are building extensions for it. It’s very new, only 6 months or so, but so far I’m happy to keep using and watching this space.
I’m a hard customer to get – but if I’m happy with your product I’m pretty loyal. Indeed I’ve been an Aweber customer since 2007! But today I cancelled my account with them, and hit “buy” on my new GetResponse account.
There’s not a lot in it – unless you have between 500 and 1000 subscribers -than it’s very worthwhile moving! Still I probably wouldn’t have bothered because there is a bit of work involved, finding where all the forms are and converting them.
Actually I saved more because GetResponse currently has a 25% Christmas discount on annual plans – but that was just lucky!
It’s About Usability and Features
I’d got used to AWeber -when I started using them I knew nothing about email marketing. I learned using their interface. It’s pretty darn ugly. Over the years it’s improved, but it’s still not pretty. It’s quite confusing. I recently taught someone how to use it – and yes it’s still confusing.
Meanwhile a client asked me to set up an email auto-responder series to support their eBook. They were already using GetResponse – so I agreed to do it using their existing account.
I expected to lose some time learning a new system. But like – wow- seriously easy! Okay I already knew email marketing – but the system was just easy. And nice.
Not only was it easier to use – but it did stuff that AWeber didn’t do (or didn’t do as well)
all emails had a responsive design as well as a “normal” one. You could also preview in a number of email programs;
you could automatically send messages not just based on time or after a subscription but also after a user clicked a link, opened a certain message, reached another goal, change their data or had a birthday.
the control over timezones and when messages are delivered is also better in GetResponse
you can use Google Analytics with GetResponse
they have surveys built into the account
you can import existing contacts into a list without having to do another opt-in – that’s a biggie!
Why Not Use MailChimp – It’s Free?
Good question – indeed I do use Mailchimp for a non-profit that I’m secretary for. It’s not too bad – for sending out newsletters. Unfortunately – for the free version that’s all it does. It doesn’t offer a true autoresponder for free. I use auto-responders all the time – particularly for my lists associated with books. Once you sign up for the paid version it’s the same price as GetResponse – but has fewer features.
MUST I Use An Email Marketing System?
Short answer – yes.
Long answer – there are only two things you totally control on the Internet – your website (assuming you are actually paying for hosting) and your email list. In theory you can just keep a manual list of email addresses and email them from your own email account. But don’t come crying to me when your email provider bans you, or you find your emails go straight to the spam folder!
This week Facebook is full of bloggers crying because Facebook is now only delivering their FB Page’s updates to about 10% of their subscribers.
Of course you can pay (about $5/update) – but still not everyone will see your update. With email deliverabiltiy is pretty darn high well over 98% for both Aweber and Getresponse.
Maybe Twitter then? Well it’s been floated too – so don’t be surprised when they start charging too! The thing is that all these companies need to make money at some point. Social media is not a bad way to drive traffic – but they are a means to an end – not the end itself. The result is having people interacting on your blog and/or signing up for your email list.
Big U-turn ahead! I started this blog in April 2008, actually it was probably a couple of months later and backdated the first few posts. I’d started working full-time online in the previous October. I didn’t have a clue. I was full-time because I didn’t have a job, not because I was making any money! I was going to be a success by Xmas. Maybe this Xmas?
At the time I called this blog “Passive Income” – because that’s what I wanted, and because I thought “passive income” would be a good term to rank for in the search rankings (it wasn’t – but I got to page 1 before a specific Google penalty knocked me off).
Niche Websites – Rise and Fall
My best ever Adsense month was January 2011 – I made $1383 dollars. I made the same again in a range of affiliates which ranged from Amazon to The Keyword Academy. In April 2012 the Penguin update by Google which penalized sites which had built links with insufficiently varied anchor text. The next month my Adsense was down to $700.
In August 2013 I made about NZ$46 (say US$38) from Adsense. The penalised sites haven’t recovered, and I haven’t bothered building any others. I could, and contrary to what Google would have you believe, you can still get them to rank. But they are vulnerable. And I don’t like having my business being controlled by Google – they employ more PhD’s than me – they will win.
eBooks Rise and Rise
eBooks on the other hand are the same, but different. I repeated history and started with writing my passion – travel. I make a hundred or two from my books – but the market is small and the competition tough.
If Amazon changes their policies around indie authors, I’ll feel the pain. But not so much. You see the secret to eBooks – for me anyway – came with the success of my quick guide on how to format Kindle books. I wrote the book in frustration – not as a strategy.
On the back of it I launched BookFormatter.com. I started making regular money freelancing – my doing for people what I explained how to do in the book! Never, ever think that giving away technical “secrets” is a bad thing, many people, having acquired the knowledge will happily outsource to a person they trust to do a good job – you know like the author of the book!
I’ve been in this game – mostly full-time – since 2007. In that time everything has changed. Hubpages and been and gone, Niche websites have been and gone (for me). I’ve been a writer and a book formatter, A website designer and an email marketing consultant. When I started social media didn’t really matter. The controversies and flame wars happened on blogs not facebook! Search traffic were the committed buyers – now more and more people buy through social media recommendations.
Working for Passive Online Income
Until this year most of my effort has been basically on building passive income. Ultimately I’ve failed at that. Google changed the rules, my attempts at manipulating the search results failed, and I didn’t have the heart to re-build. I couldn’t see it working for a many more years anyways. Google is becoming less and less important to informing how people make buying decisions.
Working Online – How Did I Do It?
I got paid on shared-revenue sites: Hubpages to BubbleWS
you get paid for your skills by others needing your skills i.e. freelancing
you get paid for recommending other people’s products (affiliate sales)
you don’t control your income because you don’t control the terms of service of the sites that pay you
takes little skill to get started
the rewards can be quick
you can learn a lot and make a lot of connections
it’s perfect if all you want to do is work online and not deal with hard-core “selling” (raises hand)
when it works you really do make money in your sleep – I came back from a 2-month overseas trip with more money in my bank than when I left!
it’s not long-term recurring income regardless of what the third-party promises
your income is controlled by terms of service you don’t control
as an affiliate you ride the wave up and down of the service or company you’re promoting
for mainstream products e.g. Amazon, eBay – affiliate marketing is basically dead because of the way Google now prefers it’s own brands in the search results
unless you’re very, very clever you are building someone else’s brand and not yours
writing for revenue share on sites like HubPages, Squidoo, BubbleWS etc
publishing books on Amazon and other sites
developing websites which are designed for ranking in Google and getting visitors from search traffic only
making money from Adsense and affiliate sales from websites which rank in the search results
freelancing via third-party sites such as odesk and eLance
Developing An Online Business
How Does It Work
you offer something that people want, that you can deliver and that people will pay for
you develop website, social media etc – with the purpose of getting people on an email list
you may use third-party sites like Amazon to get your message/name/brand out there – but the ultimate purpose is to push people to sign-up for your email list
you develop a website and an email list that you control. Traffic comes from a variety of sources which include social media and Google
control – you control your product and you have access to your customers, if Amazon suddenly decides to offer only a 40% royalty you can decide to move your customers elsewhere
you can leverage customers and offer more expensive services and products to a smaller group – you can ultimately make more money with less effort, and it is sustainable
developing an online, or mainly online business, costs very little money
you have to develop some basic ability to explain why your offering may be useful to someone (“marketing”)
The last few months I’ve done a fair bit of freelancing – it pays the bills – but it’s also done something much more important than that – as a direct result
Freelancing made it obvious to me that there was a gap in the market, and realise that I could help fill that gap.
I’m currently buzzing with a new business venture a business partner and I will launch before the end of the year. We know there’s market demand. We believe we can fill the gap. We have the skills to make it happen and have identified a launch platform. Plus it will pretty much use all the skills I’ve learned in the last 6 years – plus a few new ones 🙂
You might want to sign up for the newsletter – in the box that will appear below in a second… There may be a special deal in the offing for subscribers… Can’t say much else – after all I’m trying to build excitement and buzz. Oh and we are still making it up!
I’ve gotta say – if I can find the skills to start a business – than anyone can! Seriously.
Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans – may your turkey and shopping go well. And the family thing if you approach it the traditional way!
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2016 – Yup BubbleWS is long gone- the only good thing is that I have copies of most of the content I wrote there so I can reuse it. If you are still using 3rd party sites- PLEASE make sure you keep copies of content!
Yes – I know it’s been a while – life got busy – to great advantage of my bank account, not so much my blogs. Long story short, I got some lucrative freelancing opportunities, which were fun and paid well. Plus I found a brand new online distraction.
Friends on Facebook talked about it, and talked, and talked.
I ignored them, for weeks. They said it was more fun than Hubpages in the early days.
I ignored them, Hubpages made me my first $1 online, and broke my heart later when their business model went bad. I was well over third-party writing sites. I was focussed elsewhere.
And still they went on about it. After a 12 hour day, I took a peak.
They said it was a Facebook killer – that sounded good to me – Facebook is annoying me more and more with their intrusive ads, and my inability to contact my own followers without paying $5.
The new site was interesting – I went for a minute, I stayed for an hour.
I signed up – and posted something short about the earthquake we’d just had – earthquakes, even ones that cause no damage make it quite hard to concentrate.
I checked my stats – I’d made a $1.
I was hooked. Not for the $1 – but for the fact the site is fun. It is quite like Facebook – it’s not just another site to write SEO articles. In fact that might be worst thing you can do. Real people looking to socially connect with you probably won’t click through to an article titles “25 Ways To Attract Women” – they are far more likely to click on “Why my love life sucks”.
BubbleWS For Writers
What I do think BubbleWS is good for is that it’s fun for writers. If you have never written online- it’s the easiest way I’ve ever seen to get an audience. Plus you get paid for every view, every comment, every “like” you get.
Plus it’s bloody addictive – because most of the people there are real people. So they will give you real feedback – want to write humour or fiction – no problem. There are almost no restrictions.
It’s a great way to improve your writing – by practice. You will learn how much difference a compelling headline makes. You’ll see what works and what doesn’t almost in real-time. That’s an education you can’t buy.
BubbleWS For Cynics
I’ve seen plenty written about how this will fail, it’s not sustainable, and anyway they can’t be making any money. They probably aren’t making money (neither is twitter, tumblr, or facebook until very recently). They have investors, they have traffic, they have raving fans. That’s a bloody good start for a site which is only a year old.
They are getting ad revenue based on impressions not on clicks. 90% of their traffic is NOT from search. Though Google likes the site and seems to index my bubbles quickly.
That said, not every $25 (the minimum redeem level) is paid. Most non-payments are probably due to people breaking the rules. The rules are pretty simple:
don’t steal – words or photos
don’t use exchange groups to artificially increase your views
don’t use traffic exchanges, proxies etc etc
minimum of 400 characters (NOT words)
no pictures only
no referral links to other sites.
Note I’ve played it VERY conservatively – all images are either copy-free, free to share with attribution, or mine. I’ve done very few external links. I’ve just asked for my first $25 redemption – should take 72 hours – we’ll see.
Why Use BubbleWS?
I still get emails people desperate to make money, any money online. If you can’t make money on BubbleWS then you probably can’t make it anywhere. Seriously, I’ve never seen an easier site to earn small amounts of cash. You need a Paypal account, the ability to follow the rules, and a lot of effort. I’ve seen people make money there that have tried for years. If this is you, give it a go.
But try it NOW, most of these sites get less generous as they mature – now may well be the sweet spot for revenue at BubbleWS.
If you need writing practice – the place is perfect. If you need to figure out what will engage an audience and what won’t – BubbleWS is your place.
Signup – yes of course that’s my evil affiliate link. It’s not worth it for affiliate sales though 20c one time. What I really want is for you to connect to me.
I’ll connect back – my current theory is that the single biggest thing (given that you can vaguely write) that drives income on BubbleWS is the number of connections that you have.
Remember you and I don’t control the site – it may disappear tomorrow. It does go down quite often because of over-loading – I strongly suggest that you write offline and keep a copy – I use Evernote for this and other reasons.
So why the hell should you care? You’re a writer, an author or a freelancer, and the question is – where’s your Google Plus profile. The answer is usually like:
I have too many effing social media profiles already!
Which misses the point. Entirely. But let me backup –
What Is Google authorship?
The little picture in some search results – I’m sure you’ve noticed. Google rolled it out in 2011, although the relevant patent was applied for as far back as 2005. I think of authorship as a digital byline combined with an ID check.
Does the picture matter? Somewhat. Testing, and common sense suggest that readers presented with a screen of Google results are more likely to click the results with head shots next to them, or as the SEO geeks would say:
authorship images in the SERPS enhance click-through rates.
But it’s a lot bigger than that. Authorship is potentially the biggest thing to hit the SEO game since Google invented page rank – back in the dark ages. And even if you are not a SEO – if you are writing for a living either your work or as a pen for hire, you’d be wise to pay attention.
The Anonymous Web Is A Nightmare For Google
Back in the old days, I used to manipulate the search results. I would research topics which pays well on Adsense e.g. payday loans or sells a product eg. GPS for travellers. I’d buy a lot of cheap articles and create a website. It worked. I didn’t make as much money as some, but I made a living. I wasn’t a spammer, or a plagiarist, the content I had written by humans, was unique and made sense (mostly). It just wasn’t very, hmmm compelling. That’s what you get for 1c/word. The thing is Google is an algorithm, and for a computer it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between this:
Payday loans are useful if you need money before payday. In order to find a payday loan you should search on the Google and find a website that offers payday loans. Then you will need to enter in your name and address into the payday loans site. You will need to ensure that your name and address match your social security and driver’s license details. Once the lender has scrutinized your application they will avail you with the requested sum. The funds will help you bridge the gap until payday comes around again.
Payday loan providers are one step removed from loan sharks. Traditionally run out of a shop-front in a low-rent neighbourhood, payday loans are now available online, from the privacy of your own home. One thing hasn’t changed though, this type of lending is risky; so you, the borrower, are going to pay a very high interest rate. Payday loans have their place, but use them sparingly and consider other ways to bridge the gap between your income and expenses.
You and I know the difference between those two paragraphs, but it’s very hard to explain that difference to a computer. Enter the social web. Instead of designing a very, very clever computer algorithm – you just put it to the public vote – more tweets, more Facebook mentions, more comments, the content must be more “compelling”.
No problem for us SEOs though, $5 on fiverr.com will buy you as many retweets, Facebook pals, and adoring fans leaving insightful comments, than you could ever need.
Google needed access to the data on the social sharing sites to weed out the $5 gigs and real people sharing content. Google doesn’t own Facebook or Twitter. They needed their own social network, which they controlled.
Enter Google Plus. Now Google Plus has taken a while to take off – but it’s number of users is now second only to Facebook. That’s somewhat inflated because everyone who needs a Google account to use gmail or gdocs, gets a profile. But still it’s impressive. Plus it’s a lot harder to game, it’s harder to buy google plus fake IDs and fake followers.
Now Google has taken it one step further.
Google Author Rank – Benefits for Authors and Freelancers
Then they invented author rank – and everything changed. Author rank – is basically a byline – a link back to your Google plus profile. You can’t set up your profile without providing
linking your name to your sites
So now if you if you search for payday loans – you could theoretically – find my compelling, interesting article on the topic – with my smiling visage next to it. (Actually, you won’t. There are some topics you can’t pay me enough to write on, payday loans are one of them.)
However the important thing is that Google now has a real name (or under limited circumstances a pseudonym), associated with the article. They can track my articles, and they can analyse:
how many people have me in circles on Google plus (i.e. they follow me);
the number of times my articles are shared on Google plus
the authority of the site where my articles appear.
It seems likely that they can now give me a score. Ultimately, and remember this is early days so far,
the better my author rank, the more likely my article will rank even if it’s published on a website I’ve never written for before.
Ranking an article based, in part, on it’s authorship rather than it’s publisher is HUGE.
So for a freelance writer, or any author promoting their own work, author rank becomes important.
As a freelancer, you can ask for a higher price for your work if the client wants you to use your Google authorship.
For an author, it’s a no-brainer, you want Google to relate all your web-writing to your profile. I’ve added my Amazon author pages to my Google plus profile as well, can’t hurt.
Plus for those who still worry about plagiarism, it’s likely a big step in making sure that sites that copy your work illegally, do not outrank you in the search results.
The Dark Side of Author Rank
Google loves real names. There are issues around that. The use of pen-names and pseudonyms has a long and legitimate history. Many people have very good reasons for remaining anonymous on-line, as they obscure their online life from employers to crazy ex-spouses. If you write erotica on the side and write for a parenting website, you may want to use a different pen-name! Google authorship makes this difficult.
It’s a two-way street. If your authorship is associated with a well-trusted website, then it’s probably a good thing for your author rank. However if the site is not trusted by Google, then it could work the other way, as well. Google has a long track record of destroying the innocent while pursuing the guilty. And they don’t do appeals. I noted on my Google plus profile that I can update sites to “not current’ when I no longer contribute to them. Whether that will help you if a good site goes bad, only Google knows.
Branding is almost impossible. I’d like to separate Lis the writer from Lis the on-line entrepreneur and Lis the whatever weird topic I’m freelancing on this week. Google plus doesn’t work like that. However, it also doesn’t work like Facebook. You don’t share everything on Google Plus with everyone. I can chose to share only articles about writing to the writing circles I have, and so on.
Google Authorship is new – and most freelancers don’t yet understand it, hence this article. Many clients will still want simply a ghost article to which they will apply their own name (and event their Google authorship). That’s all good. But increasingly freelancers are being asked to use their own profiles. I know I got one job at least partly because I had a reasonable following on Google Plus.
Before you end up in that situation think about your strategy.
Let’s face it – selling books is hard, but there are some basics that are easy to do, and yet, many authors seem to miss them. So I’m starting with one of the important one – Amazon’s Author Central. There is absolutely no reason at all why every indie author shouldn’t have their author pages set up.
What is Author Central?
This is a website provided by Amazon for anyone who publishes books there, Kindle or paperback via Createspace. It’s the site that pops up if you click on an author’s name on their book – without one you will get a list of fairly random books that share part of your name e.g. clicking on Jane Smith got me this :
or you will go to a proper Author Central page.
I don’t care how much you don’t “get” marketing – that’s a better result surely?
Why is Author Central Important?
Remember the last time you found a new author that you liked, what was the next thing you did after you finished the book? The usual answer is that you wanted to read more about the author, and see what other books she’d written.
Author Central is the first thing you should do to start establishing your author brand. You need to start giving people a reason to remember you name, your face, and hence your books.
But there a some other less obvious advantages to having an author central page:
You can promote your blog/twitter/videos to readers and hopefully encourage them to further connect with you and sign up for your email list;
You can add additional information to your book’s listing which is not available from the normal KDP (Kindle publishing) dashboard;
You can track your books sales easily;
You start to track your author rank in Amazon – which may well become important for the all-important Amazon algorithm in the future;
It’s by far the easiest way to contact Amazon, and get a human to reply to your emails.
There Are As Many Author Central Pages as Their Are Amazons
I’ll describe the process for signing up for auhorcentral.amazon.com – but you really should repeat the process for any of the other Amazon’s that you make significant sales at. I have Author Central setup on:
Each one is entirely separate so you can alter each one independently. Each also shows different book rankings and different reviews – because each show the ranking and reviews only for that country.
How To Sign Up For Author Central
Create a login at the authorcentral.amazon.com
1) If you have multiple pen names you can set these up separately – you may need to contact Amazon support (link at the bottom of each page) for their assistance. Once the pen-names are setup – you will have a drop down in the top right of the screen to switch between them. You will need to repeat the following steps for each pen-name
2) Go to the Profile tab on the menu and at the very least add your photo and your brief bio. Both of these will also be shown on your book’s Amazon page below your book’s reviews., as well as when readers click through on your name.
3) You also have the option to add any or all the following: your twitter handle, your blog’s RSS feed, up to eight videos, any events you are appearing at.
4) Once you have the profile sorted out, start to claim your books. If your author name exactly matches that of the book, and I assume is reasonably unique, then Amazon will try to pick them up automatically. Otherwise just search for them and claim them again remembering to claim the right books for the right pen-name.
5) For each book you can amend the listing on amazon.com by making changing to the listing details in Amazon Central. Note that you may have multiple editions of the books e.g. Kindle and paperback and you can change each independently.
Once you have made changes here you will never again be able to make changes on the KDP screen for the book’s description, so just remember that.
You can use basic formatting (bold, lists etc) and add in “editorial” reviews, product description (which will over-ride the one KDP), from the author, about the author, from the inside flap, form the back cover. No you don’t have to fill them all – if you don’t fill out one the title won’t show at all on Amazon.
You can go even further and click through to the “Book Extras” tab which allow you to add even more content including characters, synopsis, glossary and many more – these however are maintained from yet another website – shelfari.com. These do show up on some Kindle apps and readers – under a “books extras” tab on the main menu of the book. Note none of these options are available in the other country Author Centrals.
6) Remember that changes you make will only show on Amazon in a few hours/days – it’s not immediate. Keep an eye on which edition (paper or Kindle) and which pen name you are using. I recommend that you use the same email to login to Author Central as you do for KDP. It’s easier for you, and it may make it easier for Amazon to associate the right books with your account, and answer any queries you have in a timely manner.
Monitoring Your Rankings On Amazon
Once you have Author Central set up – that’s all you actually have to do. However you may find that you have a slight fixation about home many books that you’ve sold. In which case, Author Central is not a bad place to check what is going on. You can track three key items:
Book sales are found under Sales Info. Note that the “book sacan” data appears to relate only to paper book sales, and seems to lag significantly. The sales rank data relates to data direct from Amazon so is more up to date, but can be days out of date if their servers are on a go-slow. I’ll do another post on Amazon sales rank – but here it’s suffice to say that the lower the number the bet. Being ranking at #100 is awesome, being ranking at #100,000 is OK, and a sales rank above 1,000,000 probably means you are rarely selling books. Note that these figures ONLY relate to the amazon site that this particular Author Central account relates to e.g. my German translation of a books ranks very poorly on amazon.com and a lot better on amazon.de
What is Amazon’s Author Rankings?
Frankly it’s an experiment – Amazon introduced it in October 2012 – and it’s certainly not perfect – for example I can’t explain the recent dip in my rankings in this graph – I was selling particularly well at the time!
This is my speculation – take it for what it’s worth. But if I was Amazon I would be using author rankings to build “trust” in an author that already sells books well. If they published a new book I might feel more inclined to promote it if they have previous sales…
It appears that author rank mirrors some sort of total sales rank of your books – in the same way – lower is better.
The third part of the tracking function of Author Central – are customer reviews of your book. You can use this to add comments, although that is generally considered bad form, and otherwise just angst or celebrate over the reviews. Your mileage may vary.
I think this should be enough to get you going with Author Central. Really, if you do nothing else to promote your books, fill in AC, it really is that important.
There are exactly two things a self-published authors control on the Internet: your newsletter and your self-hosted blog. Any author who is serious about their business should have both – but today I want to talk newsletter because it’s the least understood.
By the way if you want to see a newsletter in action, and you haven’t already, you may wish to sign up for mine at the bottom of the post. (Note sure if you signed up already – try it the computer will tell you!)
I used to be totally anti email marketing , I had been on so many scammer marketers buy, buy, buy newsletters, I was totally turned off them. But I was wrong. Now I understand about the difference between good and bad marketing. Unfortunately, too many authors are doing email marketing wrong too, or failing to do it at all .
Why People Don’t Start Email Marketing
People can subscribe to my blog by email – what more do they need?
Subscribing to your blog posts is one thing – and suits many people, when say the blog is only updated randomly, like this one. Coming in late to a blog though can be confusing – it’s like being the one late guest to the dinner party. Some of my blog readers have been with me for 5 years, some for 5 days, a regular newsletter is a way to communicate more directly, refer back to earlier blog posts, link to stuff that’s happening on the Internet now, and personal updates. In contrast, subscribing to a blog, only gets you the blog posts as posted, either via email or in a RSS feeder.
A decent email service, will allow you to set-up a pre-programmed series of email messages, so that when a new subscriber signs up they will get your pre-programmed emails, in the correct sequence, with the intervals you set up. Also you can send out regular newsletters referring back to both your blog and any other resource online which may be of interest to your readers.
They Are Using WordPress.com
If you are using wordpress.com to have a free blog you can’t use an external email marketing service. Readers can subscribe to your wordpress.com blog to be notified of post updates but that is it. Blogspot the other popular free website provider will allow you to use external email marketing services.
Do I Need A Newsletter? I’m Already on Facebook/ G+ /Twitter /Pinterest /Youtube /Tumblr/etc etc
Yes you do. All those social media platforms are lovely. I’m on some of them myself. But they are outreach places, places to meet new people. They are not my home base.
They will never be my home business – because I can’t control them.
Each and everyone of those sites ban users everyday. Think it’s hard to get yourself banned? No not really, have enough of your competitors complain about you and you will get banned. It used to be a real problem, now sites like Facebook have got more subtle. You may follow me on this site’s Facebook page, but I’m about to close it down, why?
Because my pages followers hardly ever see up dates in their news feeds. Facebook will fix this problem, if I just pay $5 per an update. That’s fair enough, Facebook has shareholders that need to see a return for their money. It’s bloody expensive though compared to the amount I pay for an email marketing service. Plus more and more users seem to be moving on from Facebook, because of the annoying ads showing up in their news-feed. Why spend a lot of time and effort to build a Facebook following, just to lose the audience when people become disenchanted with the platform, eve if they still ike your content. That’s what I mean by no control.
More subtly, readers need to already be active on a social media site before they follow you there. I’m not going to join Facebook to follow someone, unless I’m already on it. There is one piece of software that everyone uses, good old fashioned email. Particularly if your readers are not hard-core social media users, you will find them easier to reach via email than by social media.
Can’t I Just Send An Email From My Own Email Address?
Maybe you have a collection of a few hundred emails from people who have commented on your blog or have subscribed to your social media profiles or RSS feed. Can’t you just email them all? And attach a Word doc file.
No, it’s illegal. It’s called spamming.
Curiously, at this point some writers will get quite defensive and say, but I asked for their permission, people are okay with it. Maybe. But did you give them an option to subscribe on the email, did you remind them how they subscribed to you? Plus, many people will forget that they subscribed. They will forget who you are, or they are just having a foul day and they will hit the “spam” button in their email reader. If enough of them do that then your email address will be banned, first your email will go directly to the spam box, never to the inbox, next your email provider (gmail, yahoo, your ISP) will ban your email address.
Plus the whole world doesn’t own Microsoft Word, nor will they open your update.doc file unless they know you very well, well they shouldn’t if they know anything about Internet security.
I Don’t Have Anything To Say!
Really, I thought you were a writer? Or a blogger, or a business owner trying to get your message out! I do however know what you mean, and before you decide which email provider you’ll use, which pretty template, and load of other minutiae, you may need to sit down and think about a content strategy. You are trying to reach out to potential and real readers, what do they want to know? How can you help them?
What’s Better Than One Email List? Two Email List, Three Email List, More!
I have at, current count, eight email lists:
one for buyers of each of my three travel books;
one for buyers of Kindle Formatting book;
one for readers of this blog;
one for people signing up at my travel books website;
one for my travel blog website;
one for people signup up at my book formatting services site
I am probably short a few. Every book I publish has a signup at the BACK of the book – asking people to signup for updates and new releases. As that is the ONLY place those particular lists are advertised I know that the only way for someone to sign up is to have reached the last page of my book, hopefully by having bought and read it.
To be honest I really should make a specific call in the front of books, where browsers can see it on Amazon, for interested readers to sign up for new releases under the Non-Boring Travel Guides brandname. That would be yet another new list, one for each book, so I can track where people signup from. They may be previewing the book now, and not buying, so if I have a 99c sale, maybe they would be a good person to tell?
I get far more signups for my Kindle Formatting book because I use the email list as a mechanism to send them the setup files for formatting their own books which will save them much typing.
When I update books (and the formatting book is nearly done), I can email those on the relevant buyer list, and say, here’s the new book. I don’t have to ask Amazon to do it for me, I have control of my buyers. Am I making sense yet?
Isn’t this an awful lot of work? Well no, the buyers lists only get occasional updates, when I have a new version, or a new very, relevant book. The other websites are monthly or longer between updates.
The time spend on updating people who have already expressed an interest by trusting me with their email address, is far higher on my priority list, than doing hourly updates on twitter.
How Do I Get People To Sign Up?
Ask. That’s all I’ve ever done, ask them to signup. You can do giveaways, and many people do. I’ve used a picture book to get signups on a travel blog, which worked well. I intend to put my best blog posts together, revised and edited, sometime in the future. But generally, if people like what they see either in your book or on your website, they will be perfectly happy to sign-up.
You need to make it easy. Ensure that there is a sign-up form on every page of a website, sometimes twice (mine pops up under the post as well as being in the side-bar).
The email service I use also allows me to link to updates on social media, I’ve started doing that and it seems to get a few click through, maybe even some more sign ups.
The important thing is, make sure that you deliver on your promise, if you promise weekly updates, going out to 10 days is fine, but do not email for three months – your subscribers will be wondering who they hell you are, which results in unsubscribes.
If you promise to only update subscribers when a new book comes out, don’t send updates of random cat photos every few days! If people subscribe to your email list for X-rated vampire fantasy, don’t start sending updates about your family, or your angst over the use of apostrophes. They don’t care, all they care about is the next zombie attack!
When Is The Best Time To Start A Newsletter
Yesterday. Seriously, even before you have finished the book, or got the website up and running. Start the email list. Well that may be extreme, but it’s pretty close. I waited years, and I regret that, because I’ve lost many of those people, never to make the connection again.
What Email Service Should I Use?
I suggest you pick carefully. You need something that will grow with you. You can swap email services, but every time you do you will lose some of your subscribers, because they will need to confirm their interest in your newsletter. Start with the one you intend to stay with long term. I use and recommend AWeber.com – and here’s why
I think I have finally figured it out, I have finally understood not just myself, but all those other sad, lost, souls who find this blog by asking questions of Google like is Brett Mcfall a scammer, or is Empower Network a scam or is self publishing a scam. (With apologies to Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad).
I know what they are missing, and I understand why I have always reacted so badly to the scamming mobsters, and no you cynics, it’s not just because it brings me never-ending traffic from the Google Gods.
The answer? To why so many vulnerable people are looking for the answer to making a dollar online? The reason some of us try and fail for many years, while others are insanely successful at it? .…
Well first I need to tell you a story. Stay with me here. I know I should keep things short and bullet points, and relevant. But I feel like writing something different today.
I long time ago, in a different country, before the Internet was invented. I was a geologist working underground. I was a new graduate so I knew lots and lots of interesting theoretic stuff about geology; like how old the earth was (hint a little older than 4004BC), and why the dinosaurs went extinct, and even why Australia has lots of mines and New Zealand does not. I knew very, very little about calculating ore reserves. I was set to work to doing a lot of calculations which involved digitizers, maps and figures, on paper (Excel wasn’t invented either). I was supposed to be supervised by a senior geo – but he got busy. Months went by, in the end I helpfully finished the report,without him looking at the figures, and forgot about it. I took a transfer to a mine in PNG. Around 9 months later the first mine was in the depths of a long and bitter industrial dispute. One day I got called into a senior manager’s office in PNG and said he had call for my previous boss in Australia. I took the call, and on a scratchy phone line, powered by an undersea cable, I was told there were serious flaws in my report.
I was asked to put my side of the story, I was asked to justify a highly technical document, which I had not seen or thought about for 9 months. Without a copy. Without warning. I mumbled something. I was fired. I burst into tears. I think my current manager finished the call for me. I was totally mortified, I was clearly a rubbish geologist, and worse, I’d cried. (I was the only women either of these guys had ever employed I tried very hard to make them forget my gender). I was beside myself that I had apparently made a serious professional mistake. I forgot that the guy firing me was also the guy who should have supervised my work at the time. I didn’t notice my current manager saying that he had no problem at all with the work I’d been doing for him for 8 months. That didn’t matter in my mind, I was utter and complete failure, as a human being, and more importantly in my profession.
Looking back I was the fall-guy for a department that needed to cut costs fast, I was out of sight, on secondment elsewhere, I was new, I was a girl, I was the only non-Aussie, I was an easy target. I was a victim of unjustified dismissal, not that I realised that for many years.
My bubble was burst. Up until then I’d been a good student, got a solid upper honours degree, succeeded at anything I put my hand to pretty much. But it was a front. I felt a complete and utter failure, my mother never knew I was fired from that job. I never dealt with the issue on my CV. Instead I spent a year retraining by getting another degree. I was good at that too. But every time there was conflict or issues in the workplace, I ran, not walked away. If I failed at anything I learned to hide the bodies and move on. I was thought that someday they would figure out that I was just making stuff up as I went along.
So The Secret Selling Your Books Or Making Money Online
Yeah I’m still telling my story. I know you are scanning for the bottom line, but stay with me. Basically, quite well hidden in my persona was the feeling that I was a fraud, that I would be found out, publicly humiliated and sent home. Imagine her, thinking she could do, well anything, really.
Imagine her, thinking that she could learn to be an entrepreneur and make money online, run her own business, or even, and this is pretty funny for someone who never took a writing class until this year, could write books.
So I decided to get one of my books translated. Into German, a language in which my comprehension extends to: ja, nein, Heil Hilter, schnell, I see nuttin’ (Hogan’s Heroes has a lot to answer for), and apfelstrudel. I hired a translator. I fought a bit with the translator when a trusted friend disagreed with the translation. I got a translation. I put the book for free a few days. I promoted it on a Facebook page where I knew there were some commentators that were native speakers.
The first two comments were, and I paraphrase; the book sucks. Or at least the translation does.
And you know what my very first thought was? Shit, it’s not good enough, I should unpublish it immediately. I should apologise for having had the audacity to think that I could publish and promote a book in a language I don’t speak. Immediately I knew I wasn’t good enough.
That is precisely what I would have done a few years ago. But over the last few years I’ve noticed the people who have done alright with their online business and I notice the ones who have disappeared from the online world and back to the world of work. The ones that succeed, what do you think they have in common? Are they super-smart?, are they amazing writers?, incredible marketers, really, really talented in some other realm?
Some of them, but not all. They do however have a stubborn self-belief. They THINK that they can succeed. They don’t expect to fail, although they figure they probably will. They would prefer to succeed, but if they don’t they analyse the issues and adapt and move on. They don’t quite because they think they suck.
They know there is not one way to make money online. They know that if there was no one would be sharing it with you for $97.95 or even $1997.75 with an easy payment plan.
And then I got a private message from Tom – he pointed out that the book was fine it was the blurb and the disclaimer that sucked. The disclaimer was not needed for the core of the book, I deleted it. The blurb, of course, is critical. So I wrote back to him, could he help – I’d be happy to pay. He didn’t reply for about 20 minutes – and then replied with a new translation of the blurb and refused to take cash. I updated the book overnight. Within two days of going free, I had a book ranked #2 in the free listings of amazon.de Wasn’t it lucky I didn’t go with my first instinct, to pull the book from sale, pretend I’d never done, and/or to declare to the world, that getting books translated doesn’t work.
Except it wasn’t anything to do with luck – it was mindset. I managed to see through the unwarranted criticism, found the real issue, and fixed it.
Running An Online Business, Or Writing Books – You Need One Thing Only
The thing is, the trick to making money online, no matter how you do it – has nothing whatsoever to do knowing how to format a book for Kindle, setup a WordPress blog, or whether you are active on LinkedIn or Twitter. Nothing. At. All. All of those are skills you can learn or hire as your budget and aptitude dictates.
Far, far more fundamentally, you need to know how to silence that inner critic that keeps on telling you you don’t know what you are doing and you have absolutely no right at all to be doing whatever it is you want to do. You see if you don’t believe in you, no one else will either.
Let’s face it; in a world where Dan Brown is a best selling-writer, you don’t need to be an amazing writer to succeed as an author.
So You Jumped Here To Find How The Hell To Succeed Online or To Successfully Self-Publish?
When I format books I get all sorts: I’ve covered erotica, Bible stories and children’s books. None of which offend me, some amuse me more than others. But once, and only once I’ve hesitated to say yes to a request for formatting. When Patrick asked me format a book titled “Making Your 1st Dollar Online “, my scam alert bell started flashing red.
So I stopped and I skimmed the book. Then I slowed down and read it. Then I asked the author to let me know when it was on sale – it may be still free or it may be paid – doesn’t matter – buy it, and read it – particularly if you are just starting out. It covers the basic models of making money online; for the writerly types info-products are books, and no he’s not talking specifically about self-publishing – but the mindset is probably even more important if you are still looking for someone to tell you that your book is good enough. (NB I haven’t reviewed the affiliate program he is promoting in the book and can therefore not recommend it).
It must be my week of inspiration reading because the second book I’m recommending today I had already downloaded, but not got around to reading. After Tom did me such a huge favour at short notice I thought I should read his book. His Secrets to Success in Writing and Self-Publishing is for authors who want to self-publish, but also again it’s far more importantly about your mindset, and has some actionable steps next time that voice inside your heads should out – just WHO do you think you are?
Again he’s not focused on Amazon algorithms or whether you should stay in Amazon Select or not – it’s the basic – how to do I deal with the stupid shit inside my head – highly recommended. And no it’s not just fluffy-feel good stuff, it actually has some actionable stuff I may even action!
Wow it’s been a while, about a month, but finally my newest website is live: BookFormatter.com (yes I was surprised that such a grammatical, 2-word dot com was still available to).
The thing is – it’s not just a website, it’s actually a business!
Hanging out on a writers’ forums I see an awful lot of authors who are not sure that they are, or if they want to be in business. I have a lot of sympathy for the ones who say “I’m not in business I just want to write books”. I used to say something similar – my version was:
I don’t want an online business. I just want to rank websites and make money from affiliate sales and advertising. I’m just an Internet Marketer, not a business-owner.
Well the Google changes last year put pay to that. I figure that, although I could probably win in the short-term, medium-term the 1000’s of PhD’s that Google employs were probably going to win .
So I turned to books, which is exciting, but frankly I’m not building my backlist fast enough to make a decent wage. I’m not giving up on that, but I needed a more short-term cash boost. So BookFormatter was born.
Service Businesses Online
I’ve thought for a while that my Kindle formatting services page needed expanding. For a start I don’t just format for Kindle I also do ePubs for other eReaders and pdfs for print-on-demand.
Plus a separate site meant the I could focus on getting all the words in the right order, with commas, and all the other stuff the writerly people seem to worry about. (If I’ve missed some on BookFormatter.com feel free to email: lis(at)LisSowerbutts.com)
It took a while, partly because people kept on contacting me to help format their books! It’s taken me about a month to get the site live, along the way I’ve thought rather a lot about the process of launching a service business online.
I’m actually gone about this with some thought, and even, hold on to your keyboards, a bit of a plan. So business planning by Lis 101 – who’d have thought?
Well that’s easy – I need the cash flow. Books make money, but it takes a while, and is uncertain. Most books I can format within 24 hours and the clients pay 50% upfront and 50% on acceptance – the most I’ve had to wait for payment is about 24 hours after I sent the invoice. That’s a good cash flow business.
It also has the potential to bring in more NZ$ – the US$ exchange rate is continuing to hurt like hell – my expenses are in NZ$.
Then I discovered another reason – I rather liked doing it. I actually liked the interaction, the sheer novelty of starting with a book put together in a way I’d never have done myself, and making it work. I’ve always liked troubleshooting too and fixing problems as they come up. The interaction with clients was fun. It’s possible I’ve been in the back bedroom too long.
Defining An Offering For Sale
I must admit I’ve never been a huge fan of having a service business online. Indeed briefly I did offer small-business website SEO and basic websites. I struggled with it though, because it’s a very open-ended offering. It’s hard to know when you are done, you need to be very clear what you are quoting for and how you and the client will know when the job is finished. I got burnt rather badly by a client who could never quite decide which pixel went where (I’m not exaggerating) – I walked away when I realised I was living the famous Oatmeal Cartoon.
This time around I’ve learned a lot. Basically book formatting is something I like doing, and because of a very weird background I have in obscure programming languages (awk, grep, sed) and old-style software (vi, DisplayWrite) I’m pretty fast at it. I’ve also narrowed down my audience to several groups. I think knowing who your audience is helpful, because then you know how to find them.
If you are going to make a service business work need two things; demand, obviously, but also the ability to perform the service quicker, better, more-effectively and at a better quality than the average Joe.
Pricing – that’s the hardest bit still I think. At least I’ve stopped apologising for asking for money LOL. I’m lucky with book formatting there are a bunch of competitors, listed right on Kindle Publishing’s help page. I checked them out. They were pretty expensive. Clearly the bigger boys were carrying expenses that I didn’t have (I suspect they are outsourcing to a third-world country and having to manage both the client and the worker). A lot of the pricing was just silly – quoting in hours when a client had no idea how many hours a job would take or in pages for an eBook. I also checked those advertising in places like kboards.com. Some of those were very low.
In the end I kept records of how long jobs took, worked out my required hourly rate, and came up with some indicative prices. I fell between the low and high-end of existing competitors – so that seemed like a good place to be. If I get overwhelmed with demand, I’ll put prices up.
Having worked out WHAT you’re offering, I started in a small way and when people approached me, I tried to remember to ask them how they found out about me. After a while I saw some patterns.
First – I had an abject failure by trying to market to my friends over at da Pond – most of them were fairly tech savvy, were writing non-fiction, and didn’t have a lot, emotionally or financially, invested in their books. Cheap as possible was what they wanted to spend, and most had figured out how to do their own formatting which was “good enough”.
Instead the people who actually found me and hired me were:
authors who don’t have time and/or the inclination to format their books themselves;
generally weren’t online in a huge way;
normally had full-time, well-paying jobs.
But now it’s got more specific – I’m starting to see a pattern. I’m primarily attracting:
those who have bought my Kindle formatting book, understood the process, and decided they’d like to outsource (they make awesome clients because they understand what I’m offering them);
panic-stricken author’s who have just got a warning from Amazon that their Kindle book has problems. Because of my time zone I can often fix this faster than they’d believe;
authors who have a book published several years ago on paper, but have put off getting the eBook out as it was too hard.
Having discovered the audience you then think about where they hang out, or how they might find me. The readers of my formatting book are easy – there’s sign-up at the back for the sample files in the book.
The panic-stricken seem to find me via Google from what I can work out. That’s the easy bit of advertising – the keywords shouldn’t be hard to rank for.
The third group, existing authors, I’m thinking about. It may be more about personal contacts and world-of-mouth among not so much writer groups, but those that have a story to share with fans (think those with causes or messages to share).
From the Great Minds Think Alike Camp
Completely by coincidence within days of my launch
Basically a new author who wanted to self-publish but wanted to outsource as much as possible – between the three of us I’d say your entry price is around $200 (budget cover $100, formatting $70, free book promotion $35) . Compared to the many, many thousands most self-publishing “companies” charge….
This post was going to be balanced answer to the question by a first-time author: should I self-publish?
But balanced is not my style.
This post came from a conversation on a discussion board a first-time author asked how to approach publishers, after having spent over a year writing her book she wanted to know how to get a traditional publishing deal. I replied:
Why? Why do you want to put all that time and energy into the slim chance of actually getting a publishing deal?
Her answer was that she’d tried self-publishing “but it hadn’t worked”. She wanted to sell lots of books to:
make money for a charity she’s supporting;
to have the satisfaction of seeing her book in bookshops
The Problem With Traditional Publishing.
Traditional publishing is designed to restrict the number of books published. Publishers are in the business of making money – they absorb all the costs up front: they pay for all editing proofing, cover design, printing costs. (If your “publisher” is asking for a contribution up front, then it’s not a traditional publisher – it’s at best a vanity press and at worst a scam – but that’s a different post). So they only publish books they expect to make money from. Which means you may have written the best poems in modern New Zealand – but you won’t get a publishing deal – because poetry doesn’t sell in New Zealand.
Agents are part of the system to stop publishers been overwhelmed. Big publishers don’t generally accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you get an agent and a book deal – you become a very small part of the publishing process. Pretty much – you’ve done your bit.
Sit back bank the book advance and look forward to the royalty checks.
But the process can take years:
years to get an agent,
years to get a publishing contract,
years to see the book in print.
Your chance of getting those – maybe 5%? Maybe 1% – possibly less. Impossible to know – but it’s rare. Unless you are already famous, or been involved in a high-profile news story.
So after a year or two of effort at best case you’ll have a $1000 advance, a dribble of royalties – which are generally paid in arrears, 6 months later. You’ll get maybe 10% of the book’s cover price. Your book maybe at best on sale for a couple of months.
Yes months – books take up valuable shelf-space – if they are not selling, they won’t be there for long.
Worse case you’ll have wasted a year or more being rejected by agents, or have signed an agent but that agent won’t find a book deal for you. I dunno about you – but don’t find repeated rejections are very good for my mental health. Particularly when I might have to wait months for that “no”.
In contrast as a self-published author I get between 35% and 70% of the cover price, my book stays on sale forever, and I get paid monthly, if I sell enough books to make the minimum payout levels which vary from $10 to $100 depending on outlet and my home country. Oh and the book is available for sale within days of my pushing “publish”. And my books cost considerably less than traditionally published books – because I don’t have the overheads that a publishing house has.
Self-Publishing Works For Print As Well As eBooks
I was caught out when I received my first print books. They arrived in a box from America and I sat looking at them, stroking them ,with a stupid smile on my face. It was pathetic – fortunately there were no witnesses! They were so cute! They were mine! Yes I’ve published thousands of blog posts and articles all over the web for years – but paper was different!
The first-time author had dreams of seeing her book for sale in bookshops. But you can as easily self-publish a paper book as an eBook, for most books you should probably do both.
Many writers think that printing books cost a lot of money. That’s because it did, as recently as 5 years ago. But thanks to print-on-demand such as Createspace and Lulu the only costs involved in printing books is getting a full cover and formatting the book’s interior, if you DIY these two things the cost is zero. If you are like me and only bought a small-sized stockphoto for the eBook cover it will cost you about $25 for the high-resolution version. There is no print run – you only print books if you want to coo and smile over them, give them away and sell them direct.
Want to see your book in a bookshop? Approach your local shop and find out their policies on stocking self-published books – the smaller shops seem quite open to it – particularly for local authors.
Self-Publishing is Not Just Putting A Book For Sale On Amazon and Smashwords
The writer at the start of this post had self-published , sold only a handful of books, not enough to make the $100 payout on Amazon, and was now looking for other options. It “hadn’t worked” in her words.
And then she said something very important:
Admittedly, I did no marketing whatsoever.
Yes that will work every time. I can prove that – I published my Vacation Packing book in German in March. I’ve done no promotion, I was sorta hoping that it would sell itself – there is very little competition in the German language market. Books sold to date: zero, keine, zitch, nada. I need to promote it. People can’t buy what they don’t know about.
Many writers, and I don’t know if this particular case, seem to hope that all that effort to get a traditional publishing deal, will result in them not actually having to market their book. It may well do – but it probably will result in very little to no royalty checks (i.e. they won’t earn out their advance). New authors who are traditionally published do book tours, they do interviews for media. Yes a publisher’s name will get doors opened in traditional media, which are difficult for a self-publisher. But as a self-publisher I don’t need to do physical book tours, I don’t need to do public speaking, I can promote online without being in the same country as my market. Oh did I mention traditional publishing will rarely see your book published worldwide?
Bottom Line – Why Self-Publishing IS Best Particularly For First Time Authors
Traditional publishing sucks. It dis-empowers the writer. You are not in control of your own career as a writer. The publisher controls how long your book is available, where and at what price. They can also control which other books you publish and where. You are, in effect, a junior employee.
I self-publish to control my writing business – and that’s what it is – a business, not a hobby.