Tips to Overcome the Challenges of Being Your Own Business Person: For Authors and Game Designers

Heroes in History25

So I’ve been at this blog thing for more than a year, though I wish I had more time to get to posting. Today I want to talk a little about the challenge of being your own businessperson.

It doesn’t matter if you are an author or aspiring game maker, it is REALLY HARD to stand out. Even if you have an above average product, you still have so much competition from many other people. Part of the extra challenge when you do creative work is that your product (with very few exceptions) is a WANT and not  a NEED. This I will explain in my next post.

No one needs your book or game to survive. However, there is a human need to be entertained, which is where you must fit things in.

Since I’ve been selling Heroes of History for about 3 months now, I can say I’ve done way more than the average person in terms of sales, going well into the 4 figures in total sales, including Kickstarter. This is considered exceptional for an indie game, which I am proud of. The fact that I got nominated for an award is even better. But, it’s even less likely that I will earn a living from making tabletop games than from writing, and neither is very likely.

I am aware that many indies, authors and game developers, are not very good at self marketing and promotion. So here’s what I’ve learned, and hopefully some of these tips will help you:

  1. don’t use conventions and  trade shows as a primary means of making sales. I’ve been to more than a half dozen comic cons and tabletop cons. I have yet to meet an indie game designer who plans to attend major conventions and actually turn a big profit, if any profit at all. The primary reason you go to those things is to network with fellow indies, meet bigger publishers that you might consider either selling your work to or at least get advice from, and collect information from your customers, such as their purchase habits, hobby enthusiasm, and what future products they might like (such as posters).
  2. You must make as many contacts as possible. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful in selling Heroes of History is that I’m willing to drive out and meet game shop owners from across the Mid Atlantic region, and even in New England (I also visit some Museums too). Now many of the owners will say no, but if even only a few say yes, you will make some sales that your fellow indies won’t because they work a day job and just sell on Amazon and at conventions. Many owners will allow you to do a demo day at the store, which is a good way of meeting potential customers and gaining fans. This rule also applies to authors: Find indie book stores (while they last) and talk to owners about buying a few copies or letting you have a book signing event to get your name out there.
  3. A lot of the stores and museum shops you reach out to will either forget, mislead you, or be careless with, their promises to buy copies. I have more than a dozen stores owners who allegedly were going to buy my game and simply did not return phone calls or emails. Most likely these owners are overwhelmed with running their stores, but many may think they want your product, then change their minds later.
  4. Carry sales receipts! The government counts what you do as a business, even if you’re self employed or file as a sole proprietor (meaning you’re the only employee and will always be the only employee), so you need to pay taxes. Not only to sales receipts give the store or museum a track record of your sale, but for taxes. I use Wave Accounting to log my expenses (disclosure: I have a friend who is my bookie) but I use printed receipts as a backup record.
  5. Use the MileIQ app to record your mileage expenses. Believe me, this is the best purchase I ever made.
  6. Be proud of your product. Even if you know it has flaws, you did what few people ever do: Actually produce something.

 

Got anything that I missed on this list? Share it below. And don’t forget to follow my page.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Millennials Are Not ‘Entrepreneurial’

Nary a day goes by when a commentator or columnist doesn’t express dismay at the struggling American economy and how lazy/selfish/unappreciative/fill in the blank “kids these days” are. I don’t know if it’s new or a pattern that occurs every decade.

The Millennial Mindset and America’s Productivity Crisis” by Steve Tobak 1/18/2016.  Below are his reasons Millennials aren’t more productive (truncated for length):

1. Quit trying to deal with a certain generation as if they’re either special little snowflakes or entitled, narcissistic brats and start holding them accountable as unique individuals.

2. That said, those unique individuals need to quit doing such an effective job of living up to those Generation Me stereotypes, put on their big boy pants and get to work.

3. And their coddling parents should quit acting as if they had absolutely nothing to do with the demon spawn they raised and stop blaming gadgets, schools and society in general.

The problem is that Millennials are not getting jobs or starting companies like their predecessors did. What are they doing? We’ll get to that in a minute, but suffice to say that America’s largest generation is not pulling its weight. And if we don’t start facing that reality and dealing with it, we’re all screwed.

Since the dawn of Web 2.0…Millennials have been branded as the entrepreneurial generation…The hype and the sensational headlines have been overwhelming:

Millennials Are the True Entrepreneur Generation.” “Gen Y Grads More Likely to Launch Startups.”… “Why Millennials Could Be the Most Entrepreneurial Generation Ever.” and so on.

But that turned out to be far more myth than reality…Millennials have actually been the least entrepreneurial generation…perhaps because they see entrepreneurship as a mindset that has nothing to do with actually starting a company. Unfortunately, wishful thinking does not lead to jobs or GDP.

While it’s true that many Millennials are snubbing corporate America, they’re generally not starting companies but joining the growing ranks of the gig economy: doing a little of this and a little of that as self-employed solopreneurs. A recent report by MBO Partners says that Millennials make up 30% of all full-time independent workers.

Instead of climbing the corporate ladder and building their careers or starting companies and creating new jobs, they’re opting for the perceived freedom, flexibility and control of self-employment…The problem is that driving an Uber cab, renting out a room on Airbnb or generating online content are not exactly high paying gigs or boons to the economy. That’s why self-employed Americans make up 17% of the working population but generate just 7% of the nation’s GDP, according to the MBO report..

If we don’t start treating Millennials – the largest demographic in our nation’s history – as individuals and hold them accountable for becoming productive members of society, how in the world are we going to increase productivity, return to robust growth, pay down our national debt, and fit the bill for all those entitlements?

2015-Millennial-Money-Report-Earn

2015-Millennial-Money-Report-Debt

This is not the first, nor the last, hand-wringing that will come with why kids my age aren’t running out to build the next Uber or Facebook. Despite the sensational media reports about teens and twenty-somethings getting rich of some new business idea, the author is right that few of us actually will try any business startup, let alone some major innovative company.

Points 1,2, and 3 are about how coddled we are. I can assure you, dear reader, I got no coddling, except Mama’s delicious spaghetti and meat sauce. And laundry done. And a roof over my head. Okay, fine.

As for debt, that is very unfair. We are not only pressured to go to college right away (in hindsight I should have joined the military or the National Guard, would have doubled as serving the country and also gotten help on student loans) but to take out massive amounts of debt, then run into an economy that’s been struggling for years. My entire adult life has been essentially a recession or stagnant economy. Not the kind ideal to finding a high-paying job or confidence in starting out on a business.

Wherever else you may see lists or reasons of why we aren’t making enough money to buy our first mansion at the age of 26, here are my five quick reasons:

1. Cost. I started to produce a card game for kids, not fully aware of just how expensive it gets to produce two decks of cards for a game. Especially when I’m trying to create a valuable product and not take shortcuts on the product itself. Fees, taxes, regulation costs-things I could not know about until I had to pay them, at least without the time investment to shop around. In hindsight, I wonder if, knowing what I know now, I would have continued with this venture. But it’s too late now.

2. Debt. I addressed this above. My guess is, many of the young techie startup folks have little or no debt, due to a) scholarship money, b) rich parents, c) trust fund, or d) any combo of the above. The rest of us, not towering geniuses going to Ivies, Duke, or Stanford, carry a lot of debt.

3. unprepared for hard life. Going into business for oneself isn’t easy, even if Warren Buffet makes it look like anyone with $100 and a pair of shoes can make millions overnight. It requires long hours, personal sacrifices, and lots of focus, which is hard in this ADHD age we live in, and which some of us suffer from, maybe even quite literally. I completely get the need for hard work and sacrifice but that really has to be conditioned, and it’s not something that can be taught in a classroom.

4. Lack of access to mentors. I noticed that most of the top Millennial Entrpreneurs have solid access to a) capital and b) advisors. I don’t mean they did so great and then got a and b. I mean they had them FROM THE GET GO. To be fair, it is possibly to meet or exceed one’s goals without “privilege”. But MAN is it hard. Far easier to start with one’s first million, or a “small loan”.

5. Government. No one knows all the regulations out there, but there are lots of federal, state and local codes and taxes to manage. And we didn’t even address the IRS tax code today.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below and share this article. I’m sure there’s a lot of hand-wringing, but to me, the combo of high-debt, low cash to begin, and inexperience both as a professional and in preparedness contribute to most of us just checking out and playing the latest Assassin’s Creed, which is awesome for the record.

 

The (Book Publishing) Industry has 39 problems. And they are…

photo: wikipedia.org

There was a great article from Digital Music News’s Paul Resnikoff published September 2014 about the troubles the music industry is having. After reading it I realized some of their tips could substitute terms related to “music” for terms related to “books”. Thus I have chosen a few top points using this substitution. This is just a fun read and something to think about as you chug along in your day.

Read the original article here. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a music fan. Bold letter means I changed the words from the original into my version. (Artist and author are used interchangeably here)

1. The book publishing industry is failing.  Across the board, artists are experiencing serious problems monetizing their audio/print releases.

2. Major Publishing house revenues have been declining for more than 10 years, and they continue to decline precipitously year-over-year.  This has dismantled the traditional publishing system, once the most reliable form of artist financing.

3. Digital formats continue to grow, but not enough to overcome broader declines in physical books.

4. Even worse, the evolution of formats keeps pushing the value of the book downward. Free-books and the subscription model pay less than downloads (or for free-books not at all); downloads paid less than print versions sold independently.  And the next thing after subscriptions will probably be even worse.

5. There is little evidence to suggest that this downfall is being made up by touring, merchandising, or other non-writing activities.

6. The subscription model is rapidly becoming the dominant form of book consumption.  It also pays artists the worst of any formats before it.

7. Post-book, authors and publishers have failed to establish a lucrative, reliable bundle to monetize their writing (for all but a very few select authors).

8. Most consumers now attribute very little value to the book itself (if they ever did), and most consumption (through YouTube book trailers, bundled subscriptions, and the advent of free-books) happens at little-to-zero cost to the reader.

9. A generally uncertain economic climate only adds to consumer resistance against paying for books (plus the sad reality that a high percentage of our population suffers from illiteracy, which makes them unable and uninterested in reading unless we do something about this tragic problem).

10. Payouts to authors are not only hard to figure out, they are almost universally low and cannibalistic towards other, more lucrative formats.  Which is why many authors choose to self-publish at least some of their books (mostly e-books), because they conclude that 70% from Amazon at $2.99 per e-book beats 25% at $6.99 per e-book.

11. E-book downloads remain more lucrative for artists (and publishers), despite rhetoric indicating otherwise.

12. It’s harder than ever for a newer artist to get noticed.

13. The artist has greater and more direct access to fans than ever before in history. Unfortunately,so do millions of other artists.

14. Indeed, the typical reader is flooded with books, not to mention videos, games, Netflix, and porn, all of which makes it extremely difficult to win and retain the attention of future fans.

15. This also puts pressure on the artist to shorten the release cycle, and pump out content at a quick pace.

16. Facebook is now charging artists to reach their own fans, a move it defends as necessary given massive increases in Facebook posts that are overwhelming users (original author’s opinion, not mine, but still noteworthy).

17. All of which sort of makes the Facebook ‘Like’ a necessary win, but a difficult victory to celebrate.

18. Approximately 90% of all authors cannot make a living wage off of their writing, based on stats gleaned from Digital Book World.

19. Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music.  That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, and figuring out online sales strategies.

20. Classical literature and overall reading efforts continue to struggle, thanks to a continuing problem invigorating younger audiences to read a book.

21. Authors are increasingly giving away free-books, in the hopes of getting paid work down the line.

22. Information overload and massive media fragmentation have made it very difficult for book fans to even notice releases exist — even if they are dedicated fans.

23. Traditional bookstores have largely imploded, with holdouts like Barnes and Nobles on the verge of becoming a relic of an earlier era.

24. Either way, the biggest releases always go to the biggest brick-n-mortar stores: Target, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart.

25. Yet these larger, ‘big box’ retailers are accelerating the downward spiral in book sales, both by dramatically reducing shelf space and by pushing pricing aggressively downwards. This is happening even though older demographics are often still receptive to the print format.

26. Major publishers, once the most reliable form of financing for new and established authors, are now a fraction of their former selves.

27. And thanks to heavy financial pressures, the creative process at major publishers has become increasingly formulaic (ever wonder why so many bestsellers look like a repackaging of a previous bestseller?), overly refined, and often unsatisfying to the artists involved.

28. Instead of enjoying some theoretical resurgence, indie publishers are mostly getting squeezed by devalued and declining books, piracy, and far greater leverage from authors themselves (who can skip small presses if they want).

29. Established publishing companies often overpay their executives by a wild margin, despite massive and ongoing losses.

30. Very little innovation now comes from inside the industry.  Instead, it is now dictated by alternative-industry players like Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and the entire indie author industry.

31. A large percentage of book fans are frustrated with high prices for hardcover, softcover, and e-books from traditional publishers.

32. The average consumer reads less than five books a year. (kids books are, however, making a comeback)

33. Traditional bestsellers lists tend to have the same 14 authors in heavy rotation, with mind-numbing regularity and lots of Caucasian faces (despite the increasing global diversity in literature).

34. Even worse, a lot of readers don’t seem to mind (wait for your dystopian society novel about a boy vampire who goes to a school for people like him, all while trying to fight the evil Lord Waldemart, and only finding the Ring of Power and destroying it can save them from having our boy hero having to fight in an arena of sexy vampires who fight to the death. And of course, a romance angle is involved. Soon to be #1 in the world!).  Which means very few books actually get into rotation and discovery becomes harder.

35. Book fans have access to more books than ever, but are often completely overwhelmed.  This often results is less interest in authors that aren’t heavily promoted, already established, or somehow ‘viral’.

36. The Long Tail was mostly a fantasy, and so is the concept that great writing naturally finds its audience.  Buried gems remain buried in the digital era, while the most successful artists still seem to be those with the best backing and money.

37. Writing conferences are often expensive, both in terms of time and money.

38.Writing conferences are sometimes held in far away, difficult-to-reach places, and last for days.  Which also means that conferences can be giant distractions from work that needs to get done back at your office (since it’s unlikely you make enough money to be a full-time author or writer to go to a conference whenever you want).

39. Even worse, DRM has become an artist-unfriendly loophole for every author and publisher.

So what do you think should be added/deleted? Which point on this list do you think is most/least accurate?

Five Reasons I Believe You Should NOT Give Away your Books Perma-Free

Should you give away any of your books for free, forever on the internet? This topic is frequently posted on the Kboards site of which I am an infrequent poster. If you didn’t know before Kboards.com is an Amazon-affiliated messaging board for writers, authors, editors, and anyone else involved in producing indie books. While a few of the editors and authors also have traditionally published books, most of the posters are like you and me, self-published or never-published types.

The consensus from most of the authors on that site, ranging from “small fish” to “big fish”, is that yes, give away free books on Amazon. Lots of books. Maybe just the first one or two you write, maybe the first in every new series. The argument goes like this: If I, anonymous author, want to get visibility, I need to let people “test drive” my book first. Not by merely provided sample chapters from a book before you buy, but the big kahuna. Then people will be more willing to give me a chance, and thousands will download my book free. Then when I charge $3.99 or $4.99 for the next book or rest of the series, people who liked it will pay the money knowing they liked it. After all, in a free market economy, don’t we all want the maximum value for the lowest price?

To be honest, I don’t think free-books is such a great idea as a long-term strategy. While innovation is based on people experimenting with new ways of doing things, the adage that “if it was such a great idea then everyone would do it” also bears some truth. Not that I am NOT talking about sending free copies for review, or having a special deal of “sign up for my e-newsletter” or “buy 2 get 1 free” or “buy a book and get a free bookmark or customized stylus pen” or “free e-book for 30 days”. Act now!. I am talking about leaving your work free, forever, to anyone who wants to download it, with no strings attached. I also included 5 reasons it MIGHT work for you.

“But,” you say, “so-and-so indie-published author did perma-free and she went from 10 sales a week to 500 a day! Clearly it works for everyone.”

Ahem, my friend, if this was true for everyone then all authors, including mid-list or low-list authors whose trad-pub contracts are expiring, would stop trying to seek a literary agents and would instead throw their product up on the web for free, assuming that somehow people will recognize the genius of their book and by book 2 or 3 so many copies will be purchased you won’t have to ever get a literary agent. It will not happen with 99% certainty. Below are my five reasons NOT to give away any of your books perma-free:

1. A well-published book, print or e-book, has costs. Editing, graphic design, advertising (if you choose), and most importantly, your time. What else could you have done instead of write? Yes everyone loves free samples and free stuff, but you tell me ONE business which gives away labor for free for all eternity without getting something in return and I will check dailyjobcuts.com to see if they’re still in business. While there is a high percentage of our population which never wants to pay for anything, most people are willing to pay at least a token amount for a product or service.

2. Giving away a “test drive” is no guarantee of future sales. Unless you just want people to read your story and costs and connection don’t matter much, you can’t be sure that test driving an entire book will somehow make people fall in love with your story. First off, how many people download your book and actually read it? How many WANT to discover new writers, instead of just scoring free e-books? And finally, the more someone pays for a book the more likely someone is to actually read it. I’m not saying price e-books at $9.99, but do you think a person who spends $5 is more or less likely to read at least some of a book than one they got free?

“But,” someone says, “e-books technically don’t exist since you create one copy and an unlimited number of people can download the file and it costs roughly zero dollars after the first e-copy.” True, but you still paid for editing, graphic design, maybe even beta readers for that one e-book. With REAL money.

3. The average book sells fewer than 500 copies in its entire lifetime. Now maybe you’re the superior author and it will turn out that giving away one book and selling 50,000 next time will happen to you. But think of the odds; if you are unlucky enough to be even “slightly above-average”, you will not make enough money from book 2 on to cover what you spent on book 1. Plus there’s the cost and value of your time. Don’t expect a free-book to necessarily get lots of downloads, and expect even fewer people to be interested. If you are “average Joe or Jane” and you sell 450 of each book, think of how many you would have to write to make up for book #1 being free forever at no cost.

3. Your new (and old) competition. “When you offer your work for free, you set yourself up for a massive new competition—namely, all the free stuff on the internet. Seriously. You are now competing with all public domain work (H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, etc.), fanfiction, and freebies from other writers of your own status or higher—not to mention torrents of books from popular authors. If you think competing with the open market is hard, try competing with the above.” (K.H. Koehler)

4. You are NOT guaranteed lots of reviews because you gave it away for free (K.H. Koehler and my own observations). For example, I have accepted free e-books in exchange for reading them and posting reviews on Amazon. That author may have 25 reviews but no sales, and all of his reviews he got from soliciting people like me to read them for free. Plus his time and money.

5. If you get caught up in the “free-book” movement then your followers may start to expect it. Yes, one or maybe two won’t hurt your reputation IF you are talented and savvy enough to sell significantly more copies. But start doing it at the beginning of every series? 1. you’re losing money on your work and costs that someone would have paid for (who among Orson Scott Card’s fans regret paying for Ender’s Game?) and 2. Don’t be surprised when you DO charge for your books and suddenly find a lot of your “fans” are a lot less enthusiastic to pay you for your work. Remember, I’m talking about throwing up your book to the universe for free forever. Are there really no people just looking for free stuff?

Even Brian Jud, a book-marketing consultant who supports perma-free, wrote (italics mine): “Invest in your future by giving books away now. But only do so with the expectation that you will be repaid with additional revenue over the long haul.

So then, are there times to give away free work forever? There actually are, but only if you’re going to meet any of the following criteria:

1. You’re giving away smaller content or content which no one would reasonably be expected to pay for. For example, short stories, sample chapters, a “guide” to your fictional universe, poetry, etc. This is done to highlight your main work to get them to the “prize”.

2. You’re getting something in return for your free-book. E-mail subscribers? Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook followers? a book review in a place where it’s likely people are going to see it? Free services like beta reading and reviews? Anything at all.

3. At the very beginning of your writing career AND/OR you are really unsure if you’re going in the right direction– I am in this spot and the temptation to offer a free-book is tempting; why should I get to charge anyone? If you want to dip your toe in the water, or test a radical concept this may work. Then see rule #2 above.

4. If you are seeking publication which does not offer payment for publication. Self-publishing has lots of advantages, but if you can get published in a credible publishing establishment, take it. This section is for tiny publishers or academic journals where you’re mainly seeking a little prestige or ego boost. Especially if you’re just starting out AND #3 above.

5. You have a serious, solid plan for what you’re doing. If you have a well-planned long-term strategy for exactly how you will generate interest, or make money, giving away a free-book could get you the initial attention you want

So that’s my list. Feel free to send in your own ideas of why you should (not) give away your books perma-free. I’ll sweeten the deal: If I get at least five unique comments on this blog, I’ll choose one of you who posted at random and send a $5 gift card to you for Amazon or B&N, your choice. This is a way for me to build engagement. See? I’ll pay to get something in return.

Should Celebrities Take Stances on Controversial Issues, or Avoid Them Altogether?

 Feel free to share your thoughts: Do you take stands on controversial political issues, or do you stay away from controversy so you can focus on the noncontroversial part of your platform?

Politics and entertainment have mixed for as long as human civilization has been around. In the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, used political satire of the times in his play and was one of the founders of comedic satire (Image if the Daily Show existed back then). He was one of many examples of politics and social commentary used in fictional works in the ancient world.

Sports has also played a big part in politics. In the 20th century integration of athletes from diverse backgrounds was part of the success of ending racism in America, in 1972 the world saw Palestinian terrorists massacre 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic games which has been one history point in the century-old battle between Jews and Muslims in that part of the Middle East, and Billie Jean King’s victory over a 55-year old Bobby Riggs was one historical point in the battle for equality for women in athletics. Whether intentional or not, these points became rallying cries for the mixing of politics in sports.

However, what is unique about the 21st century is that we have social media and lots of forums for celebrities to post, tweet, keek, pin, snap, or otherwise share their photos, videos, and thoughts. Many celebrities choose to be as apolitical as possible in their public lives so no one can get angry at them for taking sides and thus hurt product sales or reputation. But some celebrities do wade into the political arena and the question is: does being political impact your brand positively or negatively, and when do you want to be involved?

I picked four recent cases of people who  were involved in controversies involving politics when they are not otherwise political people (reputations not built on politics). These are randomly picked but they all had one thing in common: New Media made their opinions much more well-known than they probably would have been in the pre-internet age where news traveled more slowly and was less readily accessible.

Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corporation, would come off as more political since he owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Last week Murdoch posted a tweet reading “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, then tweeted back, “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” She then compared asking Muslims to be accountable to Jihadists the equivalent of holding Christians accountable for the Spanish Inquisition.

Then there were the double killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The tension between those who believe Brown and Garner were victims of cops deliberately targeting Black youth as “criminals” versus those who believed Brown and Garner were at least partially to blame for their demise ran high (for the record I was more surprised by the Garner verdict than the Brown one, though I didn’t follow either case closely). After the verdicts athletes like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Reggie Bush wore  “I can’t breathe” shirts during pre-game warm-ups last month. Six St. Louis Rams players put their hands up for “hands up, don’t shoot” and angered the police in St. Louis for doing so.

And who can forget earlier in 2014 when the Clippers, during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, tossed their warm-ups to the ground and turned their pre-game shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo over what they believed was a racist comment by then-owner Donald Sterling towards Black people?

The one odd one was Liam Neeson, whose Taken 3 movie was just released in theaters. He told gulfnews.com, “there’s too many [expletive] guns out there, “Especially in America…There’s over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace. Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools.’” Given that his movie involves him shooting guns and is marketed towards a diverse audience I have to believe this will hurt Taken 3’s total take since I believe this comment will be perceived by many to be “Elitist” and “Hypocritical”. A similar situation happened with Exodus and they suffered at the box office because of it.

Where I am going with this is on when otherwise non-political people make political statements and whether it helps or hurts their brand. Rupert Murdoch, whose name and companies have been involved in politics in nature, might be expected to make comments (and his comments probably won’t cost him viewers or readers in the end). Ms. Rowling’s books and movies are already out so I’m not sure how much her tweet at Murdoch will hurt her in the long run. Probably none of the athletes who made statements supporting Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner will suffer either, but I really do think celebrities should be careful with what they say before taking sides.

So should you be political with your brand, or not? I think it depends on what you want to be known for and who you’re trying to appeal to. Some people benefit by taking public stances on issues, exercising their rights to free speech. Others like to shut up as to not offend anyone. Your personal brand is yours and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with it. Just accept that stating your opinions in public risks offending people who disagree with you and who will boycott you to make a statement (not saying it’s a bad thing, just stating the obvious here). And in the age of the internet and social media, anything you say absolutely will be used for and against you in the court of public opinion.

Want to Gain Website or Blog Subscribers? How Data Analytic Inaccuracies Could Affect You

Web Analytics can be a powerful tool to help understand what your page visitors are looking for and what they see on your website. Using these tools properly can make the difference between your website(s) increasing page hits and SEO ranking or getting lost in the sea of websites, of which there are close to 1 billion worldwide as of December 2014 (netcraft.com).

But how to get the most accurate number? Below are the two main ways data is collected for websites and how your analytics statistics might be impacted. I’ll keep the tech minimal to focus on the analysis and marketing/branding benefits:

  • Logfiles- data collected by your web server, logged as a text file, independent of the visitor’s browser. Data collection with logfiles suffers when people use dynamic IP addresses, which means someone might visit your page 4 times a day and count as 4 different people, if they cache your page, meaning it’s saved on their browser so it’s like they never left your page and thus their repeat visits are not measured, and if search engine “robots” are accidentally counted as page activity even though they aren’t real people.
  • Page Tags- collects data via the visitor’s web browser and sends that info to remote data-collection servers, usually captured by JavaScript code. Google Analytics uses this method.

Page tag collection is where “cookies” are used. Attaching a “cookie” to a visitor’s web browser is how most website track and collect information on who is visiting, because this is the easiest and best way to obtain demographic information. How else would you know if your visitors were male or female, old or young, or visiting your page from a mobile device or desktop?

The problem is many people delete cookies routinely or set firewalls for their personal or company web browsers. If you use page tag services like GA, data will be incomplete or missing because if this person then visits your site a month later, they will be treated as a totally new user and if they are blocking cookies important data can’t be collected. Also, you have to add the GA tracking code to every webpage you want tracked, or else you won’t have information for that page. Lastly, “Cookie time-outs”, when an analytics vendor must stop collecting data because a page visitor is no longer active on the site, can affect your statistics, as discussed in the previous post.

So what can you do to compensate for these data collection inaccuracies?

  1. Use visit metrics over unique user visits- According to Brian Clifton, author ofAdvanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition, unique visits can be misleading. His example: You visit a travel booking site to search for plane fares on your personal computer, then make the purchase from your work or office computer, you visits count as two uniques but it’s still one person.
  2. Don’t assume New visitors plus repeat visitors does not equal total visitors- Consider this example: A person makes his first visit to your site then comes back later than that. He counts as both a new and returning visitor but is only one person.
  3. Wait at least 24 hours before checking data-it takes GA 24 hours to sift through the data and paint a more accurate picture of your web visits.
  4. Have a clear privacy policy (or promise not to sell, rent, or voluntarily turn over private information to anyone, except as required by law)-This way people are less likely to delete cookies from your site and mess up your analytics.

In my next post I’ll talk about how to create data spreadsheets with data and I’ll provide some examples. This is an easy and simple way to track your progress.

photo: recarga2.com

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

Aspiring Authors: do you deserve a seven-figure book deal?

The holiday season is ending soon and we’ll be fifteen years into the millennium. Here’s a story for all you authors to think about as you weigh traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. From Publisher’s Weekly: (bold emphasis mine- edited for length)

Seven-figure book deals are nothing new in corporate publishing. But lately, these deals seem to be happening more frequently. During the run-up to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair in early October, three seven-figure deals for debut works were closed by Big Five houses. Shortly after the fair, the New York Times ran an article about a waitress who landed a high six-figure advance. The streak continued with news that St. Martin’s Press had paid seven figures for a debut novel by New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford. And, two weeks ago, word broke that indie author Blake Crouch landed seven figures at Crown for Dark Matter, his science fiction novel. For some in the industry, the flurry of big advances is simply business as usual. Others, however, attribute the run to a dearth of great material, along with the ever-pressing need on the part of the big houses to publish major bestsellers.

George Gibson, an industry veteran who is now publishing director at Bloomsbury USA, warned against reading too much into the latest round of big deals, noting that they happen “fairly regularly during the year.” Nonetheless, Gibson acknowledged that the business has changed. For the Big Five, especially, the highly sought-after projects have become essential. “The game plan to make your budget, or exceed it, relies on having bestsellers. That’s always been the case, but it’s the case now more so than ever.” Because both midlist and backlist titles aren’t selling as well as they once did, Gibson explained, the big books, “are more important.”

That a number of the major deals of late have been for debut works—five of the six aforementioned acquisitions were for books by first-time authors—is also not surprising. One editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that since the advent of BookScan (which gives editors, sales reps, and retailers approximate print sales for any given title), having no track record is usually a plus.

Other insiders, who also spoke off the record, theorized that there is less of everything, which drives up the price for the most coveted projects. “The whole pool of talent is shrinking,” explained one source. “There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

Agents, of course, see the trend of bigger advances as mostly positive. “It’s great for the industry,” said Stacey Glick, a v-p at Dystel & Goderich.

Glick felt the influx of big-money-deals might owe something to the fact that publishers feel a need to “prove themselves,” with more and more authors finding success self-publishing.

Regardless of why the big deals are happening, Glick did address one downside to this way of doing business. “The bigger issue is setting up an expectation level for an author that often can’t be met,” she said. While it’s wonderful when a writer lands a huge sum of money for their first book, it puts the author under more pressure to achieve commercial success. If the book doesn’t sell to expectations—which will be high—the author’s career, in the long-term, may be hurt. As Glick explained, the situation “can make it challenging for the author’s future books.”

Alison Callahan, an editor at Simon & Schuster, described what’s going on now as “the new normal.” She said that competition for the perceived best projects has been stiffer for the last four years, and that the biggest shift is how quickly sought-after titles will sell to editors. In the not-so-distant past, when there were multiple bids on a book, an author would often talk to competing editors—or meet them—as part of what’s known in the industry as a beauty contest. Those meetings, or exchanges, took time. “These days,” Callahan explained, “[a big book] is either preempted in 24 hours for an exorbitant sum of money, or you get a best-bid situation.”

The best-bid scenario Callahan referred to, in which editors must submit their best offer without knowing what their competition is putting up, is another element that can drive up prices.

Best-bid auctions can sometimes mimic high-stakes real-estate deals, in which bidders come forward with previously unheard of offers—huge sums of cash or other enticements—to beat out their competition. In publishing, the best-bid auctions are inspiring some jaw-dropping behavior. Supposedly, one editor at a Big Five house offered $500,000 sight unseen for the debut novelThe Girls—one of the most buzzed-about acquisitions of the season, and one of the pre-Frankfurt sales mentioned earlier.

Judging which books merit big advances is still as much art as science. Editors insist that there are specific factors (beyond taste) that go into paying large advances. Although many sources acknowledged there are aspects of luck involved—having an agent who is skilled at setting up auctions, for example—almost all those who spoke to PW said it’s a mistake to think money is being spent haphazardly. “We don’t throw caution to the wind,” Callahan said. “We really sit down and think about it. We have meaningful conversations when it comes to a seven-figure offer.” And what strikes some as excessive is, in actuality, the cost of doing business these days. As Callahan put it: “For a lot of books, it’s justifiable.”

______________________

An advance for those of you who don’t know is a book publishing industry term for a one-time payment made in exchange for a lower royalty (percentage paid for copies sold). So it’s reasonable to assume all the seven-figure authors, especially the debut novelists, earn somewhere between 5-15% royalty, industry standard. BUT paying $1 million or more means the publishing company must earn over $1 million in sales just to cover the advance- remember, the author does get a royalty, even if it’s small! So say an author gets 10% (just to be even). If the average book sold goes for $15 (let’s say $10 for traditional e-book and $20 for print/hardcover copies, just for mathematical ease), that means the publisher must sell about 66,700 copies to cover the advance, minus expenses for editing, illustration, printing and materials, paying distributors, and taxes. Plus, 10% of that million goes to the author, meaning the book company has made $900,000 in gross revenue. What if the publisher gives $2 million? $3 million? You could argue that one would expect the publisher to need to sell at least 90,000 copies (includes e-books) to break even on a $1 million. Even if most copies sold are e-books anything less than 80,000 copies sold for $1 million-plus has to be considered a flop, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Again, please keep in mind “success” varies from publisher to publisher and author to author. Certainly if I ever got a million bucks for writing a book I’d be very, very happy. But from a business standpoint unless the author or book can be reasonably believed to move lots of copies, this is a throw-away of money. The lure to find the next big best-seller must not come before common business sense.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

Is Uber worth $40 billion?

There has been a rush of venture capital money going to tech companies-Airbnb’s valuation went up to $13 billion, which is more than the the entire chains of Hyatt, Wyndham, and Holiday inn. Mind you, this is a company which doesn’t have any physical property besides a headquarters. All the costs of renting and insuring a home* falls on the homeowner and most insurance companies don’t (yet) offer homeowners insurance for Airbnb. But it’s still considered more valuable.

Enter Uber, the same company which got into a spat with Buzzfeed over negative reporter coverage of the company (PR lessons for another post). They are being valued at $40 BILLION, yes with a “B”. That’s about $7 billion more than Mark Zuckerberg is worth as of today. All for a company founded in 2009.

The question is, is Uber worth $40 billion? And what does it say that the fastest growing companies are all “tech” companies? Tech is a popular industry but the way companies are valued puzzles me.

First, Uber does not own or pay for the property being used. It’s an app which people use to find Uber drivers who function as cheaper, more efficienct taxis. I love the app (Lyft and Sidecar are similar) and I personally support the idea of free-market. I think it’s great the taxi industry, which is essentially a government-sanctioned monopoly, has to be challenged to provide cheaper and more efficient services, and it speaks volumes they feel threatened by people’s ability to choose another means of transportation. However, Uber doesn’t do anything besides connect drivers to customers. The cars, the insurance, the service itself, are all provided by the driver. Just as Airbnb is now insuring homeowners up to $1 million for damanges suffered from guest use, Uber and Lyft do no such thing.

Second, Uber (like Lyft and Sidecar) operate in a gray area. The companies are considered tech companies but the government considers them “Transportation” companies- which by law are subject to state regulation, something Uber drivers avoid doing. Say what you want about your craziest taxi driver, but they industry is regulated with real ways to report taxi drivers for road infractions. Uber doesn’t work that way; you take the risk that literally anyone with a driver’s license can give you a ride. Totally fair, in my opinion, but since the company does not insure customer or driver for liability or damages

it’s hard to justify how any venture capitalist can look at an app and throw it $40 billion. Don’t tell me it’s “technology” or “disruptive”. Ride-sharing apps are both these things but the valuations don’t appear to be ground in reality. It’s like Silicon Valley has made so much money over the last 20 years their investors can afford to just give billions to any tech app it wants. If you don’t think tech companies have been overvalued in the past, look up the Dot Com Crash, and check out the stock market: Tech companies rise and fall much faster than traditional companies like General Electric, Du Pont, or Boeing.

Final word: I support Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar’s right to offer a service to challenge the government-sanctioned monopolies and status quo. Anything to offer fair competition and lower prices in the marketplace is fine with me. But handing billions to people for doing nothing but coding some lines when they hold few assets and have little to no liability seems irresponsible. Kind of like bailing out businesses who were “too big to fail.”

Next week I’ll review book sales for 2014 and offer my thoughts on the state of book publishing. Then I’m off to Florida! See if you can guess where :). First one to guess wins a prize.

Logo copyrighted by Uber, Inc.

How the (bored) internet community can make or break your book or business

I can’t wait to finalize my recap of the election results (which I will put at the bottom of this e-mail) but I saw this story in the New York Times and I think if you aspire to have a successful book or business or anything else, you might want to pay attention as to what can make (or break) celebrity status. Article truncated for length:

“While political analysts spent Wednesday interpreting the significance of the midterm elections, social media pundits obsessed over the meaning of Alex from Target.

Alex is Alex Laboeuf, a 16-year-old from Texas with Justin Bieber-ish looks. He became the latest Internet sensation after a photo of him working at a Target checkout counter went viral this week and teenagers — both girls and boys — started gushing over him. By Tuesday, he was flown to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

But why did he thunder to online stardom? Was it a marketing stunt by Target? A hoax by a couple of bored teenagers? Or was it absolutely nothing at all?

“There is a whole attempt at making sense of this now,” said Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the American University School of Communication. “But I can’t find any. The Internet is more and more like your local high school where inexplicably the crowd picks something that is not that interesting and elevates it to popularity status.”

Social media pandemonium over Alex started last Sunday when a young woman named Abbie posted the photograph on Twitter. The image acquired its own hashtag — #alexfromtarget — and Alex, who started with 144 Twitter followers, now has more than 600,000.

The Alex phenomenon became the subject of news articles on the websites of Time, The Washington Post and CNN over the last two days. The Dallas Morning News tried furiously to confirm just which Target he worked for.

Various Internet memes ensued. Some began snapping photos of other teenagers in jobs, for example: Kel from Good Burger and Kieran from T-Mobile. There were Alex imitators posted on the video service Vine.

Ms. DeGeneres was confused as everyone else by Alex’s popularity. Do you have any skills like singing and dancing, she asked?

“I can apparently bag groceries pretty well,” he said.

Late Tuesday, CNET reported that a marketing start-up, Breakr, was taking credit for Alex’s rise. On its web page, Breakr offers this opaque definition for its business: “helping connect fans to their fandom.” In a post on Tuesday on LinkedIn, the company’s chief executive, Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares, wrote: “We wanted to see how powerful the fan girl demographic was by taking an unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”

Breakr’s claim then set off a whole new round of articles suggesting that the whole Alex phenomenon was the product of these crafty marketers.

It also compelled Target to issue a statement.

“We value Alex as a team member and from the first moment we saw this photo beginning to circulate, we shared that the Target team was as surprised as anyone,” the company said. “That remains the truth today. Let us be completely clear, we had absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo. And we have no affiliation whatsoever with the company that is taking credit for its results.”

Alex and Abbie, the young woman who supposedly first posted the photo of Alex, also disputed Breakr’s account and denied they were part of any publicity stunt. This caused Breakr to “update” its LinkedIn post to say that neither Alex nor Abbie were part of any scheme, that it occurred organically and the company “jumped on it” to draw attention to its services.

“I didn’t know the pic was taken or tweeted until my store manager showed me,” Alex wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

“This just shows you it is another Tuesday on the Internet,” said Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There is all these important things going on like the election, but some portion of the Internet is paying attention to something else.”

What you have here is a normal 16-year old handsome boy who was doing his job- and then for really no reason whatsoever the interent decided he should be made into an internet celebrity. I have no objection to Alex’s 15 minutes of fame; in fact, he didn’t even ask for it! But this shows you the power of the internet and also the problem with trying to develop a personal brand when sometimes you can just post a photo or write something and the (bored) internet users decide to give you a few minutes of fame.

This is a great Public Relations lessons because there is a difference between developing a brand and “getting lucky”- sometimes there is just chance as to what your consumers will want and find interesting. Things which seem clever or creative may win awards but not get you much traction; things which are totally boring might get you somewhere.

There is one other point to be made: take a look at the bolded comment on “the internet is like high school.” I wonder- what if, instead of spending time and effort focusing on a 16 year old Target employee, those people making this photo viral spent time, say reading? Or developing a business plan? or studying? Or taking a dance class? If authors want to increase book sales we’re going to have to convince people that reading a book is a better use of their time than hanging around the internet looking for the next fad opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Try tweeting a photo of a tuna sandwich with the hashtag #ThisIsMyTunaSandwich and see if it gets thousands of tweets and goes viral. If it does, you have to thank me.

photo credit: Abcnews.com