Building your platform – Part III

In the previous article, Building your Platform – Part II, we discussed how to integrate blogging with social media and why it’s good to write more on your own platform, while using social media as a channel to reach others. This week we are going to talk about building a mailing list and why it’s critical.

Blogging vs. Email

As we mentioned last week, blogging takes time. You can’t build a following in weeks or even months. It often takes a couple years to really establish a blogging platform. But guess what – building an email list is just as hard. And to top it off, it’s even more valuable. Why?

Because people still covet emails as more important and more valuable than articles from any other medium.

  • friday

    “Nothing but the facts, ma’am.”

    Email is more popular than social media (85% vs. 62%)

  • People guard their email accounts, making engagement higher (59% open rate vs. 31% click through rate)
  • Better return on investment ($40 return vs. $2-$17 return for every $1 spent)
  • Higher conversion rate (4.16% vs. 0.48%-2.64%)
  • A/B campaigns – battle tested way to improve

In a nutshell, when people launch a business, build some following over the years, they inevitably decide to create a mailing list, wishing they had started it sooner.

You can do that today. Several offer free options for small lists (first 2000 subscribers free at MailChimp). It’s easy to embed a MailChimp subscribe form on the sidebar of your site, on a page (http://greglturnquist.com/list), and through other various channels.

Another nugget of value – when you go pitch your book to an agent or a publisher, indicating you ALSO have nnn subscribers on top of your Twitter follows and monthly traffic only increases your position. You will appear as someone serious, because you have now covered the trifecta of platform building:

  • a blog site with traffic
  • social media channels with a following
  • mailing list subscribers with periodic newsletters

What to do and not do to build a mailing list

follow-meSometimes, having too many choices isn’t the best solution. It’s great when you go to the store shopping for goods. But when it comes to your site, avoid letting people sign up for too many different things. For example, WordPress has the option for people to sign up for new posts. This is a dated feature that precedes Twitter/Facebook.

It’s better to turn that option off and instead encourage people to follow you on social media while also signing up for your newsletter. Having another option means they might not take those preferred paths.

In other words, think of how you WANT people to follow you, and build your site to support that. (P.S. If you look at my site, you’ll find those bits of the sidebar pretty close to the top making them hard to miss.)

Go for the ask

email-askThis one is hard. Hard for many. In sales and advertising, it’s called “going for the ask”. It means, ask people to sign up to your email list.

I’m quite familiar with how a large number of writers are introverts, and going for the ask feels, evilllll. It’s not. It takes a little to overcome this, but do things like put a teeny, tiny link in your mail signature asking people to sign up. If one out of a thousand emails yields a potential signup, then it did it’s purpose.

When you have other opportunities (like the Bio in my latest tech book), consider putting a single sentence asking people to sign up. And in your next e-book, on the very next page after the last page of your story, ask people to sign up.

Those opportunities can pay back over time.

With great power…

doctor-strange-02-03When you build a mailing list, use it wisely, or it surely fall to pieces. Modern mailing lists must comply with anti-spam laws. All the mailing list platforms support this. Hence, if you do stupid stuff, like publish weekly (without telling people that) they will ditch it FAST. Publishing something quarterly may be more to people’s liking.

I subscribe to the Reacher Report from Lee Child. I think they publish no more than twice a year. It doesn’t intrude upon my life, yet provides value to me.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the value in building a mailing list. In the next posting, we’ll discuss some advanced techniques to turn your platform from a cobbled together mess into a synergetic brand.

Good luck and happy writing!

Building your platform – Part II

Last week, we took a dive into Building Your Platform – Part I. We learned why it’s important to start building our own site, yesterday. Over time, a site can turn into a key part of your platform. In this post, we can see what role social media should play with our nicely built site.

Blogging…

The-Rest-of-the-StorySo you have a WordPress site. Now what? (Sounds like some self help book). In a word: write! The idea of having a site is to build a presence, and that can only be achieved by writing, writing, and more writing.

Wait a second. Isn’t that what we all do every day on Twitter and Facebook? You bet. And those companies are making millions over the content you and I write there. So in similar spirit, we must write on our sites. But about what? Not to sell!

“It doesn’t provide a place to run non-stop commercials promoting yourself and your books. A blog has to provide value. I don’t know anyone who finds commercials (even infomercials) valuable.” —Sara R. Turnquist

remote-controlIf you use your site and social media channels to sell, sell, sell, you’ll be tuned out faster than a midnight infomercial. Instead, you must write about things that excite you. Things that interest you. It can overlap with what you’re trying to sell. But in all seriousness, selling should occupy perhaps 10% of your total blogging efforts.

There are some who disagree on blogging at all. The alternative advice is to go for real writing gigs starting with published articles on web sites. If you’re goal is to become a paid, freelance writer, that makes sense. But if you’re goal is to be a novelist with several tomes under your belt, blogging is the way to build an audience.

…and socializing

peanuts-gang-worldWhen you blog, the next logical step is posting what you blogged. In short, publish links to your works on Twitter and Facebook. Turn these social media outlets where you can link up the rest of the world as a communications channel. A channel that leads people back to your site. A site you control and can tune, adjust, and optionally list relevant things (like your latest book!)

That’s not the only thing you do with social media. People will follow you if they like your material, if they find you engaging, and if you occasionally have fun links. If it’s 100% your own stuff, people may not enjoy that at all. If you build relationships on social media AND include links to stuff you’ve written, then you’ll have the ingredients for a growing platform.

Believe me, people can spot sincere relationship building on social media vs. throwing stuff over the fence.

To tweet or not to tweet

HamletThe next time you have a golden idea for a post, stop and ask yourself, “Is this enough for an article?” If so, pause and write it down on your site and THEN tweet the link. You’ll get the best of both worlds.

There is more to blogging than this. More tips and tricks. But the core bit is to invest more of your writing in your own site and use social media as the means to share it with others.

And then stick with it. It can take years to really build a following. Certainly doesn’t happen in a few weeks or months.

Next week, we’ll continue this series by discussing the value of building a mailing list. Until then, good luck and happy writing!

Just finished #LearningSpringBoot 2nd Ed’s @SpringBoot + @SpringSecurity chapter

About 1:00am yesterday morning, I sent in the text for Chapter 9, Securing Your App with Spring Boot to my publisher for Learning Spring Boot. I decided to take things to the next level in security by locking down a microservice-based solution.

I spent about three weeks working on the code. I wanted it just right. Another week was spent crafting the prose to go along with it. Instead of JUST writing a security policy, I introduced a refactoring. After all, when’s the last time YOU secured an app and didn’t have to refactor something due to unforeseen issues?

I also bring in Spring Session. When working with microservices, we need a way to smoothly share the user’s current session and this project does it with elegance.

Of course, there’s a big caveat: no two secured systems ever look identical. Spring Security can handle all your needs, but there is no way to document all permutations. So this introduces one keen solution, as general as I felt could be made. But with strong suggest that the reader delve into other books and the project’s own reference docs.

All in all, I hope my readers enjoy it. It’s the last chapter before we take the app we’ve been building to production (next chapter, Taking Your App to Production with Spring Boot).

Happy reading!

Building your platform – Part I

megaphoneSomething I run into time and again is this concept known as Building Your Platform. I’ve decided to provide some useful bits of knowledge I’ve acquired through a series of blog posts.

What’s a platform?

For starters, what is a platform anyway? When it comes to writing, your platform is the place where you can get your message out there. It includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • blogging on your own site
  • social media postings
  • public speaking engagements
  • anything else you can think of where you are in front of other people

(Like that last one?)

In this day and age, if you want to put anything out there, whether it’s a novel, a tech book, or some new fangled solution, you need a means to reach other people and share it. People are really happy that compared to ten years ago, it seems like a few platforms already exist. We all rush out and jump on Facebook or Twitter, and start broadcasting our stuff. Hoping it will pick up.

Guess what? That effort may fall flat, because it’s not the ideal situation.

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” —Andrew Lewis

When we use Facebook or Twitter to put our message out there, we are confined to their rules, their look and feel, their priorities, and potentially, being shut down if we do something that violates their terms. In essence, we are not in control.

google-searchThere’s another nagging issue to deal with: SEO. It stands for Search Engine Optimization. Those are fancy words for “How Google finds you when other people are searching”. Basically, if you spend five years building yourself on Facebook and THEN decide to launch a website, you have to start over. Google won’t look at all your content on Facebook when it evaluates what is on your site.

Best thing you can possibly do: start your own website. Today. Yesterday. Get it?

Start your own website. Blog periodically. Build up your name and reputation there. Then, in five years, you won’t suffer the shock of wanting to move your business off someone else’s platform onto your own.

Building a platform

So we’ve discussed what a platform is, and perhaps I’ve convinced you that it’s time to start one. What now? The next step is build your site. Not get on Facebook. Not get on Twitter. Build your site.

Why? Because at first it will look hard, and you may put it off. I guarantee that if you put it off today, you’ll do the same tomorrow, and five years will pass by. Stop what you’re doing and build that site.

But how? See those cool ads on TV for Wix? Looks real nice. Hold it there TV advertising sucker. One must heed the ancient lessons from softwareland.

“Don’t spend effort on undifferentiated heavy lifting.” –Ancient Internet Secret

What does this cryptic, esoteric expression mean? If you’re goal is to sell books or products then don’t waste your time building a website. Instead, pick the easiest, most ubiquitous option that meets your needs and get back to your product.

Translation: Don’t waste hours/days/weeks building a site with Wix or whatnot. Instead, stand up a WordPress site and be done with it.

Around-the-webWhy the venom you ask? Wix looks great on the TV ads, but if you’re spending time moving boxes around on a site, you’re not building your product. WordPress can be stood up in hours. A handful of plugins and you’re ready to go. You can pick a freebie theme today, pick another one tomorrow, and change the theme again next year. Retooling a website using anything more complicated than that is wasting time. And it will continue to waste time for years to come.

I know how to build websites from scratch. Believe me, WordPress is the bee’s knees when it comes to standing up any sort of e-commerce/blogging platform without writing code!!

Setting up a WordPress site

Okay, I could go into the process of standing up a blog site, but guess what? WordPress is so popular that every hosting service provides as a 1-click installation option. Pick the name of your site (mine is “Greetings Programs”), the URL (greglturnquist.com), and off you go.

P.S. In the same spirit as owning your site, it’s also good to own your own domain name. Domain name is the bit before the “.com” (greglturnquist for this site). Since a “.com” domain only costs about $10/year, this is totally worth it. It will be a core piece of your brand that you own. (BTW, stick with “.com”. There are other suffixes, but they can cost a lot more or be somewhat irrelevant. Find one that’s not taken and scoop it up.)

What you will need after that are plugins. And I’ve prepared a nice list for the ones I suggest key for a decent blog/e-commerce site.

WordPress plugins

I have taught a seminar on standing up a WordPress site. I recommend it for any of my friends and readers interested in becoming a writer. In short, I highly recommend the following plugins as a nice basis:

  • Akismet – filter out spam from comments (free base)
  • Contact Form 7 – create forms so people can email you (free)
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – track/display traffic to your site (free)
  • Jetpack – stats, socialize, publicize, and lots more (free)
  • Thrive Leads – build your email list with A/B testing (one time cost of $67/one site or $97/unlimited sites)
  • Yoast SEO – helps you do SEO right (free base)
  • WP Simply Paypal Shopping Cart – if you want to sell any products directly from your site (free)
  • Custom Banners – create banners and groups of banners with hyperlinks (free)

The ones that say (free base) come free but with upgrade options. The base level may be hunky dory in the beginning. When you are raking in thousands every month, perhaps the upgrade options will be suitable.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of plugins, and guess what. You don’t need most of them. These are key. The rest is building good content over time. Learning the ropes.

In the next article of this series, we’ll dive into other aspects of your platform and how to tie them in with your site. See you there!

Writing a proposal for your novel

junior-devI’ve been writing Darklight for six years now. At first, it was things like Deep Point of View (POV), cutting out adverbs, and other bits of writing craft. Then I yanked out things like explaining too much, removing every expression, every phrase, every word that we redundant. I’ve never faced writing a proposal for my title.

Well now that I’m shooting to reach either an agent or a publisher, I must change gears and put my full attention on writing a proposal.

darklight-query-letters-piling-upThere are two key things to pursue:

  1. Don’t stop
  2. Read submission guidelines carefully.

As for the first, just go and read Steven King’s On Writing if you want to see what struggles he endured to get published.

As for the second, it’s important to know that each agent/publisher are looking for slightly different things.

So I started writing multiple query letters, each one a little different. Some people want a two-page synopsis, some want four pages. Others want a chapter-by-chapter, 1-2 sentence synopsis. And then the worst: comparable titles. You can see in the snapshot I have LOTS of query letters. I never throw anything away. And further down are my two different synopses (which, BTW, took considerable effort!)

But buried in many submission guidelines is more evil, most nefarious, most bedeviling requirement of all: Comparable titles

Stop what you’re doing and go find 3-5 titles that are kind of similar to your own handiwork in some aspect, aren’t too old that they’re worthless, illustrate that you’re book would sell well like those, and yet doesn’t trample on your own originality. (Try to read that last sentence out loud, without taking a break!)

CedricSo I have an eight page proposal written up for a nice, clean SFF publisher I feel I have a decent shot with. I have nicely listed the details of my platform, past/future published works, and the two-page synopsis I wrote a few months ago. Yet I feel blocked on coming up with three titles that I deem comparable.

I’ll figure it out. I always do. But the whole process, from beginning to end, is never easy. It’s never simple. I saw the following in a CreateSpace forum and was sad.

“Yes, I don’t like the marketing end of it at all. I just want to write and let someone else get it out there. Guess I won’t get that unless I get picked up by a publisher.” –CreateSpace forum user

It’s sad knowing this won’t work. The only people that actually get real marketing budget are, as is commonly known, only given to the authors that don’t need it. Nope, those of us that want to get into writing have to do ALL of this legwork ourselves, and it begins with doing our own research of comparables. The first signs of understanding our market, because at the end of the day, publishers are in business to make money, not publish our pet projects.

Good luck and happy writing!

#LearningSpringBoot – 1st edition vs 2nd edition

wayback-machineSomething I have unique insight into is what the approach to the 2014 1st edition vs. the 2017 soon-to-be 2nd edition. Most “next editions” are written by other authors. Not here.

I wrote the first by myself and I’m writing the second one now.

The 1st edition was relatively short. I had pitched ten chapters but Packt would only greenlight five. It’s only fair to point out that Spring Boot had just reached 1.0 GA release only a few months before my pitch. It wasn’t a “proven” technology yet.

learning-spring-bootSo I pushed forward. With just five chapters, I narrowed the scope to the most critical things people wanted.

  • Core stuff: building web apps with Spring MVC, Spring Security, and Spring Data.
  • Given Boot was so new, I spent a chapter on debugging and maintaining apps, and helping people understand autoconfiguration.
  • Also showed the magic of the Groovy-based Spring Boot CLI.
  • Threw in a little about profiles and switching between development and production.

Many things I wanted to cover just didn’t make the cut.

b05771_mockupcover_normalWhich brings me to the 2nd edition. We’ve got ten chapters and a clean slate. The field is wide open. This isn’t some rehash to turn a nickel. (That type of work frankly bores me!)

This edition is aimed at Spring Boot 2.0, which will be based on Spring Framework 5.0. Some of the goodies include:

  • Reactive Streams API found in Spring MVC, Spring Data, and to some degree, Spring Cloud.
  • Spring Cloud was just getting started back in 2014. Today, it’s a staple toolbox used for any cloud native/microservice solutions.
  • Reactive apps use asynchronous, non-blocking paradigms. Messaging and WebSockets with Spring Boot really shines here.
  • Unit testing, embedded integration testing, mock testing, and slice testin
  • Taking your app to production

junior-devAll these things are various facets where Spring Boot kicks major booty. And I plan to cover all of them. My goal is to write a down-to-earth title that helps people build Real World apps. Spring Boot is such a popular tool for serving customer needs, I can’t wait to deliver.

 

Have you crossed the midpoint in your career?

There is something that has snuck up on me. When I stopped to think about it, it became clear. There is a point in your career when you cross this “midpoint.” I remember Day One of my first job as a professional software engineer.

I had already written little scripts, apps, and other hobby projects. But this was the day I was building stuff for my livelihood. The day when I had to start steadfastly listening to others, and doing what I was told. Sounds scary, right? Well, not really. I guess I was too gung ho. And the people that hired me did a great job at hand holding. Nevertheless, what I know today and what I knew back then are starkly different.

What is the midpoint? I like to think of every person out there writing code on a spectrum. People on their first day start at the bottom. Then slowly, but surely your knowledge and experience causes you to rise. On your Day Two, there is someone else having their Day One. At a certain point, you cross the halfway mark, or the “midpoint.” Congratulations, you arguably know more than half of the other people in the your field.

This isn’t an article about arrogance, or how I’m better than you. No. This is recognizing that the things you learned in college have benefit, but we all gain new talents and experience every day. And your responsibilities change.

On Day One, your responsibility may be to test someone else’s code. (That was mine!) But at a certain point, perhaps after you’ve crossed the midpoint, your responsibility may be to help others. To teach, lead, form communities. Or to take the reins of a project where there is zero management and guidance. Those that are on Day One aren’t equipped to do that.

An honest recognition of where you “are” can make you realize that signing up to speak at a conference, hosting a JUG group, leading an open source project, or offering to run a project with little more than a single sentence for a high ranking manager in your company.

It’s also a keen time to visit places like Stack Overflow and answer questions. And remember to extend grace to those that are new and seeking to grow themselves. Some people call this giving back. I’ve never been a fan of this expression. I prefer to think of it as sharing what you have learned with others.

Ch. 7, “Microservices with @SpringBoot” of #LearningSpringBoot 2nd Ed. sent into @PacktPub

Whew!

learning-spring-boot-2nd-edition-ch-7I just finished hammering out twenty eight pages of manuscript for Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition. This has been the most exhausting. Probably because it has the most moving parts. Taking the previous chapter’s sample social media app (Spring-a-Gram, my billion dollar startup idea) and turning into a Eureka-powered, Hystrix-dashboard-monitored, and Config Server-enabled set of microservices isn’t hard per se.

But it takes a bit of wording to explain everything. If you’ve never seen all these components working in concert, it may appear to be a bit much to take in. And that is where writing is hard. The idea is that you should be able to read the chapter, and get it.

You should read the chapter, and say, “Ooh! Ooh! I want to do that!” And scamper off to your laptop, eager to implement it. You shouldn’t stop with your jaw open, going, “Whoah. That is hard, dude.” That would be a failure on the part of me the writer.

So I hope that I’ve taken it step-by-step, one logical use at a time, and migrated our monothlic image uploading service into a friendly microservice that makes me people hunger for Spring Boot more than ever.

Goodbye twitterfeed. It’s been real

While checking on my wife’s twitter feed (and lack of blog posting going out today), I see a big banner message saying that twitterfeed.com is shutting its doors on October 31st.

I proceeded to look for other options. It seems like other services that perform similar services start at $9.99/month. Yikes! That’s a bit steep.

So instead, I dug into Jetpack, and configured it’s built in support for posting to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media platforms. With all those setup on my blog and my wife’s, I went ahead and deleted all those feeds.

I guess it makes sense. Never saw them really monetize that service. And it appears many other services that were never successfully monetized are crumbling: Google News Reader, certain electronic newspapers that used to be free are putting up paywalls. I guess these places just can’t survive on ads.

Nevertheless, this will be my first post going out using plain old WordPress tools to distribute things. Thanks twitterfeed!

#LearningSpringBoot 2nd Edition available for pre-order! See @PacktPub today

If you didn’t catch it, last week Packt released my Learning Spring Boot Video tutorial. It contains about four hours of in depth, hands-on coding with arguably the most popular Java stack out there – Spring Boot.

b05771_mockupcover_normalStarting this week, Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition is now available for pre-order.

2nd Edition is targeted at Spring 5 + Spring Boot 2, which means we’ll be building reactive Java apps using Spring + Project Reactor (one of the hottest topics at this year’s SpringOne Platform conference).

If you want a hint of what reactive apps are, checkout Rossen and Stephane’s keynote.

Perhaps you’re wondering how you can pre-order a book for Spring Boot 2, when the project is currently at 1.4.1.BUILD-SNAPSHOT (as of this morning)? Spring Boot 1.5 is planned to be relatively light, while at the same time, a parallel effort to ramp up “bootiful” love for Spring 5 (reactive) will be underway.

And if you haven’t heard, I wrote this book’s predecessor using Asciidoctor. My code samples are pulled into the manuscript automatically by a simple script. I can iterate over the code, bump versions with ease, take advantage of Boot’s new features, and delay actually turning over the manuscript to my publisher. Plus, Packt and I are working hand in hand to align this with Spring Boot’s GA release of 2.0 slated for next spring.

Hang tight, and stay tuned as things move forward!