Writer to Writer: David Boles

Writer to Writer is a brief feature I’m doing in which I email a writer and ask a quick question about writing. Simple enough, right?

In today’s edition of Writer to Writer I’ve asked David Boles, author of more than 50 books in print, 25,000+ articles, and 2 million words per year, about the discipline it takes to continue to produce a high-volume of work as a writer.

I don’t know about you, but as a young writer, I’m not very disciplined. I write, I step away, I come back with new ideas, I do meaningless shit all day and I by no means write every day unless you count email, facebook, twitter, text messages, and my signature. But I’m getting better. I can honestly say that when I have a goal, I write. And I can say I certainly have a project underway, and that I’ve written about 300 words per day on average since I started 10 days ago.

But, I’ve been wondering for a while: do I really need to write every day? And in a completely embarrassing realization, I think the obvious answer is yes. A little bit. In general though. Here’s the simple answer David Boles gave that you’ll probably want to listen to if you’re looking for motivation. Ignore me.

David’s answer:

Structure is everything. Sticking to a schedule is what makes things happen.

There is no negotiation. The words come first — then the rest of the
day matters.

You can read more about David’s process here: https://bolesblogs.com/2016/11/02/locked-in-a-basement/

There you have it. And ironically, this morning I set aside blocks of three hours for writing, three hours for emailing/social media, and three hours for prospecting. I’ll keep that up, and I won’t let anything short of an emergency disrupt those blocks.

What about you? Do you write every day? What’s your process, strategy, and schedule look like?

Kindle’s Top Three: Week 47

In Kindle’s Top Three, I want to highlight the best-selling books at the beginning of every week, and express all the rage inside me that I’m not in there. Not really. In all honesty, I think it’s important to look at what’s in the top coveted three on Kindle’s bestseller list because, really, don’t they deserve some sort of recognition?

It’s that time again (actually this is the first time I’m doing this), but it’s the time when we look at the Bestsellers on Kindle and comment on Pop Culture while congratulating the authors on a job well done.

#3 Night School: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as Lee Child has built out quite the cannon around Jack Reacher from the ground-up, and with the latest film out in theaters you’re likely going to see Lee Child somewhere in the top again and soon. Garnering 809 reviews for an average score of 3.9, this book landed in at number 3 this week. The only thing I remember from the first Jack Reacher film was Tom Cruise telling some punk “I’m going to drink your blood from a boot,” and I was left wondering what kind of boot exactly. But I also believed Tom Cruise would do it. As for the answer to my question, I only hope it’ll be addressed before the movies outpace the novels.

Hell yeah, Lee! Check out more from Lee on Amazon here.

#2 Christmas in Cedar Cove: 5-B Poppy Lane \ A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Okay, so from what I gather in the description on the amazon page here, we’ve got a story about people who tell great and fascinating stories in Cedar Cove. And there’s a good chance this is the ultimate story about Christmas in Cedar Cove, as Debbie is known for being the “official story teller of Christmas” in some circles.

Side note: This is going to be a rough Thanksgiving. If you’re one of the kind people who helped propel this book to number two, congratulations! And if you’re not looking forward to the political climate that’s brewing within your turduken this year, and you’re looking for a gift to disarm the mood, maybe give this a shot? If you expect to have the typical American thanksgiving with football, turkey, politics, and you’re arguing with mom, dad, your brother, sister, or that uncle nobody really gets along with, it’s probably a worthy investment.

All kidding aside though, Debbie Macomber is a New York Times best-selling author who’s racked up an incredibly impressive 200 million books in print, and 174 customer reviews for an average of 4.3 got her to number 2 on the bestsellers list.

Congrats, Debbie! Check out her Amazon page here.

#1 Wanting My Stepsister by Alexa Riley

Whoa, Kindle readers. I’m going to ignore the holiday jokes around this one, and stick to complementing the authors on their incredible success. If you check out Alexa Riley (it’s actually two people), you’ll notice they’re USA Today Bestsellers, and it looks like they’ve got their first full length novel coming December 27th.

This is, all kidding aside, the type of story you want to see climbing to the top of the ranks on Kindle, and you can see that they’ve definitely honed in on a specific market, and with a highly recognizable brand and voice. Or as taken directly from their Amazon page, “if you want something SAFE, short, and always with a happily ever after, then Alexa Riley is for you!” With an impressive 4.5 out of 190 reviews, Wanting My Stepsister takes the number one spot as a bestseller, and for critical praise among readers.

Not too shabby, Alexa Riley. Check out their Amazon page here.

Week 47 Conclusion: With two of the top three being established authors with a lot of marketing behind them, and the price advantage they have as well, it looks like it’s still an uphill battle for Independent Kindle authors, but with writers like Alexa Riley, that’s not an impossible battle. Check back next week to see what’s in the top 3 of Kindle’s Bestseller list, and if you’ve read any of these books feel free to leave a recommendation below!

Writer to Writer: Ian Sutherland

Writer to Writer is a brief feature I’m doing in which I email a writer and ask a quick question about writing. Simple enough, right?

In today’s edition of Writer to Writer I’ve asked Ian Sutherland, author of the Brody Taylor Thriller series, how he flexes his creative muscle as a writer in between projects. I stumbled on Ian’s work after having a brief interaction with him on twitter, and reading through an article he wrote called On Writing the Dreaded Second Novel.

As someone who’s only written a first novel, I can tell you my biggest fear is committing to writing my second. It took five years for me to get that first one out, but according to Ian, it’s really a lifetime that goes into the first and at best a few years for the second. I may never even get the second novel out there. It’s tough thinking about that.

Anyway, after reading his blog, I reached out to Ian to ask how he flexes his creative muscle in between projects. The way I see it, you have to keep writing, but you don’t necessarily have to write creatively. As a fiction writer, I  want to write in vivid detail, but I don’t want to constantly rack my brain to write something I know isn’t going to go anywhere. When I get the big idea that becomes a long-term writing project, it usually starts with a simple idea that I see a lot of different angles I can start from immediately, but there’s an initial event I want to get out of the way.

So the question again: how do you flex your writing muscle between projects?

I actually do something else for a few months to allow the creative well I’ve just emptied to fill up again. I’m currently working on a non-fiction web-based project, using a different side of my brain I suppose. But as I go, I’m jotting down ideas for the next book. I can feel my subconscious slowly working things through and I’m looking forward to exploring all the ideas and then sitting down with a blank page and trying to work some of them into a decent plot. The point is I don’t force it. I’m giving myself till the end of the the year to complete this other project and then in January I intend to sit down properly to get on with the next one. But I’m already starting to feel confident I’ve got enough.

I’m sure it’s different for everyone but that’s just my approach!

Simple enough, right?

What I’ve learned about digital advertising from publishing a book on KDP

Ok, so I’ve had a book on KDP for over two years now, and I’ve learned a couple things in that time. If you’re a published writer, or you’re in the process of putting something out there on KDP I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Keep in mind, these are challenges I face, and I’m not making anything really (200 free downloads, about 20 purchases) – so let me know what you’ve faced in the comments below or any feedback you have. And here’s what I’ve learned:

Getting the word directly, go talk to people, call or email them, and get them on your email list

You need to figure out a way to build out a list manually. This is hard. You need to go up to friends, family, and strangers pretty much everyday and ask them to sign up, and you need to do it in a way that people want to sign up and see value in joining your list. Do this however you can. Talk to people on the street and strike up genuine conversation that at some point leads to you suggesting to the person that you’re going to email them with something they can’t get anywhere else. I use “the email list on my site is the only place you can find out when my books are free,” and I try to figure out a way I can write a story specifically for them.

Every advertising platform is different, and valuable if you know what to use it for

For selling books you’ll want to use the KDP advertising platform. You can advertise directly to readers on Amazon who are looking at similar titles and advertise aggressively on these pages. You can also advertise based on search terms and to users on Kindle specifically. Here’s a sample of what that would look like.

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Not too bad, right?

So with Facebook you can certainly advertise to sell books, but I wouldn’t unless you have a big budget for it. I did find some interesting data about engagement though.

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I had some activity on there, and I ran this campaign for less than $50.00, but what I learned is that the people engaged were ~75% male, and ~25% female. This was true for both offer claims, and raw impressions. Drilling down a little further, I saw that most of these impressions and offer claims were distributed amongst the age ranges of 18-34, and over 55. There were hardly any readers between 35 and 54, which is definitely something that made me curious. And it might actually be pretty consistent with the initial round of people who read, gave me feedback and ultimately bought the book when it was released. Maybe it says something about the genre, or maybe people between the ages of 35 and 54 are too busy at work to spend time on facebook. Or maybe I need a bigger budget to learn more.

Google ads are ok, because you can actually target users by language, country, and device/operating system. Knowing that almost nobody would read my book on their phone I opted to target tablets running android, or iOS, and I went specifically for Amazon/Apple. I figured this would be a lot more likely to convert, but on a $10/day budget with a ppc campaign, all I got were a handful of impressions and no clicks.

Live and learn. At least I only spent about $50 bucks and learned a little bit about what you can use each advertising network for.

Having “Sh*tty” in your title is going to make it hard to advertise

This is the biggest problem. Whether it’s on facebook, Google, or Amazon, it’s been a challenge to advertise the book with its original title, Shitty Beijing Bike, and even after changing the title to Sh*tty Beijing Bike, and updating the book cover I was rejected by Amazon. The most likely to convert by far.

So here’s the point: artistic integrity is great, so get it out of you for one book, don’t compromise, and at the end of the day – KEEP WRITING. Even if your book ends up getting a couple sales, or a lot, you want to keep growing as a writer so you can release new books in the future and continue to grow your career. Maybe you want to get published with a traditional publisher, or you want to work with a PR/advertising/marketing company. Guess what? They’re curious about what you’re doing now. What you’re writing, how you’re growing your own platform. Because there’s someone out there right now who’s already doing that and that means the work of an agency will be more affective.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Would love to hear yours if you’re a KDP author, or otherwise.

 

Sales Prospecting Lessons: Building out a Network

So I’ve been thinking about some of the success I had with sales prospecting, and it comes down to two factors: Grit, and Volume.

Let me elaborate on that. Grit is what drives you to continue to refine your process whether that’s identifying potential customers, tweaking your pitch, making one more call despite it being another “no,” and finally your ability to maintain the will to succeed despite all your failures.

Without grit, volume is irrelevant.

So, how do we do this in 2016? The Internet makes it easy to find potential customers, employers, or whatever, and to message/call them to build that relationship from scratch. As someone who’s knocked on doors, I can tell you definitively, that the Internet is an amazing tool to get started on any scale. So here’s some thoughts:

1. Start with LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the best tool to build out your professional network. And if you constantly focus on maintaining the relationships you have in the real world you’ll get the best value out of LinkedIn. I’ve had the opportunity to start important conversations simply because the person I wanted to connect with shared a few of my connections. This is always a great way to break the ice with someone. Reference that connection.

Another great strategy: connect with people within your school’s network. There’s likely a lot, even if the school is only a couple thousand students. People of all generations are on LinkedIn. And there’s a much stronger chance that going through a large list like this you’ll find a few meaningful connections you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Send a connection request first. Write a message thanking them after they accept.

2. Be helpful, don’t try to sell anything

I’m in sales. I never respond to sales inquiries. If however you have a product that can make an immediate impact on workflow, income, or otherwise, this doesn’t apply. Then by all means, tell me how you can help. For me though, I’m not in a position to buy a lot of products/services, and I’m not going to get back to you if we have no connection. Sucks right? So, I assume if I don’t like it, that there’s a chance that starting with a sales pitch isn’t going to work for me either. When I reach out to people I opt to do something entirely different. If there’s a chance this person could be a customer some day, I let them know “Hey, been following your work – loved this project or article you wrote” or whatever, “and wanted to get connected to get more familiar with your company.” My follow up is, “are you working on anything now?”

This usually gets a response like “Yeah, thanks for connecting, we focus on…”, “We have an upcoming project…” and sometimes it even results in a conversation on phone or Skype. But it’s a nice way to ease into the conversation.

3. Set a context for staying connected

You know relatively quickly when you’re connected with someone how many opportunities you’ll have with them, so it’s important to set a follow up. Sometimes that’s a phone call, sometimes that’s just following their content, their blog, their LinkedIn, and engaging them, and sometimes if you’re lucky it’s “let’s talk about this project this date/time.” Either way you need to set the expectation that you’re reaching out because their work is exciting and you want to support them however you can.

I’m a child of an immigrant woman

This election feels like a setback.

My grandfather came here after World War II. He told me the story. I don’t know how accurate it is, but this is what he told me. He said he didn’t agree with the nazis. He was a Hungarian, and conscripted to fight for them. It’s entirely possible he knew Jews and didn’t like them, but I have no evidence to prove this. I know that my brother married a Jewish woman who is lovely and has pushed him to be a better man than he would be otherwise.

My grandfather came here though, because he wanted opportunity. He was leaving Hungary, abandoning the fight because he didn’t want to fight for Nazis and when he was in his apartment on the third floor of a building in Budapest (mabye) the building was bombed. He was trying to flee.

His nurse was my grandmother. She took care of him. He asked her “don’t ever leave me,” and she never did until she died a little over a year ago.

I was the last person in our family to speak with her. She didn’t understand what I was saying. I didn’t understand what she was saying.

I was on break from work at AT&T selling cell phones at Cici’s pizza in Georgetown Texas of all places. I didn’t know what to make of it.

But their story, the story he told me as a young adult man inspired me.

America, whatever you decide to do, this is a Republic. This depends on your voice. We can make this better. But, I don’t know what to do with myself here. This candidate, and likely President elect represents everything that keeps me from being an American. A real American.

I love this country. But I am heart broken, because while I’m here, and I will always be here, I don’t know that others would get here the way I did. And there’s value in giving people a chance.

Give people a chance. Give America a chance.

That’s all.

Moments of failure are the moments I live for

I am a colossal failure. And if I wasn’t, I don’t know that I’d be anything.

This is a tough moment for me. A sale didn’t close. A sale that’s taken weeks of back and forth conversations, demos, presentations, requests for discounts, and with the impending reality that I need this sale to close. And it didn’t.

I tell myself this for every sale – “there’s something good that you’ll get out of this,” something I’ll learn. Imagine me standing in a mirror saying that. It’s probably happened. But I also tell myself that the same level of excitement has to be there on the other end. My customer has to feel a sense of opportunity, and a confidence that what I’m offering isn’t a “solution” so much as it is a commitment to overcoming their problem. An opportunity for both of us. And in the end, a product shouldn’t be so much a “solution,” or a magic bullet. It should show you a way you can work to solve that problem longterm.

But it didn’t go through. It didn’t close. And I felt this weighted pain in my gut that it wouldn’t happen right until the moment I heard the answer directly.

And, honestly, it’s never easy to deal with that. I try to look at it from a simple perspective. They had a logical reason they would sign. They came to us. The product/service needed to solve for “x”. So, during the entire process either I didn’t identify “x,” or I did and the product didn’t solve for it. But you spend time trying to really dig deep into what “x,” is and you think you get a solid feel for it.

Sales is all about getting to know someone. How they work. How they play. What they’d like to do more of. This is how you sell. You offer piece of mind.

Well, I suck at it. Horribly.

So here’s a Theodore Roosevelt quote that doesn’t suck, and hopefully you’ll find it useful.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Pictures of China

I spent four months in Beijing, travelling to Xi’an, Shanghai, Chengde, and Inner Mongolia. Here’s a couple pictures of the places that inspired my novel.

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Book Campaign

Terracotta Warrior pit 2

Pit 2

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Mt. Li

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Where they found the tomb.

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Burning Incense

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Forbidden City Mao Portrait

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Climbing the Great Wall at MuTianYu

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Random Beatles quote near Xi’an

It took me 5 years to write my novel

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I have the hardest time writing. It’s painful.

The day I came up with the idea for my first novel, I was sitting in Traditional Chinese History. We covered the Qin Emperor pretty thoroughly. And then we talked briefly about his tomb. At the time I read my books cover to cover, because unlike some of my peers I needed to read everything to contextualize individual events.

The tomb fascinated me. It was this incredible story, not yet excavated, disputed, and grandiose. I picked up random books that mentioned it just to get more information.

China’s Grand Historian, Sima Qian, wrote the legend. Check it out. It’s what made me want to write this story. Someone else would’ve written it if I didn’t.

And I almost didn’t.

Writing is hard. Grabbing someone’s attention to draw them through a story is hard. Especially when people have their own life experiences, and expectations about where that story should take them, and how it should finish.

I wrote the first chapter probably 25 times before I gave up on it. Then it became something I told people I was doing. “I’m writing a novel,” which went over well on Interviews, and at networking events. Everyone was fascinated. “That’s so great,” and “You’ll always have that,” were common supportive responses.

And I may never have another. I made progress when I actually put pen to paper.  And it happened fast. When I stopped to count, I’d written about 80 pages before touching a computer. It was surreal. No ads, no email to check, no facebook, no distractions. No ink. I went through at least two pens. And  using my hands, without that bright, mesmerizing light coming from my screen, I could focus on what was happening, without reacting to the prompts of the digital world.

I was making progress, and I wanted to keep that going. I started posting flyers about the story around Austin, and asking people on facebook if they wanted to read the opening. I got emails from strangers who’d spent some time in China, some who wrote short stories, and some who just liked fiction. Then my friends/family/acquaintances asked to read. I made a Google Doc where people could submit their feedback. And people used it.

Here’s the flyer I used:

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It felt like an accomplishment. I’d probably never make any money off of selling books, but at least I was making progress. It took 3 and a half years after the initial idea to gain that kind of traction. But this time it took me a year and a half to finish.

Do you have any unconventional tips for motivating yourself to write? I’d love to hear them in the comments!