• @Uber, what are you doing for my mother?

    I recently took the kids on a weekend trip to visit my folks. And what I learned was awesome and horrible, all at once.

    My 81-year-old mother has been diagnosed with macular degeneration. It’s a condition that in her case, has no cure. Having already lost the vision in one eye due to cataracts and glaucoma, she may be completely blind within a year.

    Both of my parents lead a very active life. They go to the University for extracurricular Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, aka “Olli” classes. They are constantly learning about history, technology, and many other things. They also enjoy visiting the art museum that opened in 2003, and even have tickets to the performing arts center that is currently under production.

    But my mother can’t drive.

    She had to give up driving when she went to the grocery store and it rained. The interference in her vision was horrible, and she had to wait out the rain. My dad was at his deep water exercise class and away from his phone, unaware of the terror she was experiencing.

    Both of my parents have iPhones and so my brother and his family started to investigate, you guessed it, Uber. Uber has been in my alma mater’s hometown for a couple years now, and there are lots of drivers.

    So why isn’t she already using it? She see the map on her phone. She can’t read the make and model of an approaching car. She can’t read the teeny, tiny box where you enter the address.

    The app is pretty much useless.

    My 12-year-old nephew on a previous visit souped up her iPhone by increasing the font size. But inside an app, it does no good.

    So we did a little experience this weekend. While chatting in the living room, I asked “could Siri drive the Uber app?” 

    My parents hadn’t even considered this. I got out my phone and started asking, “Siri, find me Uber fare to 901 S. College Street.”

    “What kind of Uber do you want?”


    “An UberX can be there in seven minutes. Shall I request it?”


    Wow. I had not seen anything like that. Last time I tried voice integration, it was Dragon Naturally Speaking, and that type of deep integration with apps simply did not exist.

    So we devised a little experiment. She and I would travel together to art museum. And I would let her do everything. I tried to minimize helping, because I wanted to see how far she could get.

    We hit a major snag. When Siri whistles up an Uber fare, it seems to not (yet) have centered your locator pin on your current location. The driver called us, looking for us, but was five miles away. Thankfully, he had lived there his whole life and was gracious enough to come pick us up.

    We then ran into a similar situation trying to order the ride back. It turns out that due to a technical snag on the driver’s end, the same driver happened to be at the art museum when we requested a ride back. 

    After getting back, I picked through all the various settings, and vowed to write a “detailed bug report”. And here it is.

    • CRITICAL: To order an Uber from Siri, the app absolutely needs to center the locator pin a la Siri. Asking a near-blind person to open the app and tap the compass icon is too much.
    • CRITICAL: In the privacy settings is a switch to show user’s live location to the driver. This is hidden and hard to find. I spotted some indicator on the map that made is super simple to TURN OFF.
    • NICE TO HAVE: The icon itself for current location was hard to grok as to whether this was on or off. How about internationalized text that reads “ON” and “OFF”.
    • CRITICAL: Find some people with limited vision and spend the money on big time, Apple-grade usability testing. The map is really nice, but there have to be alternatives, like audible readouts on driver’s location.
    • NICE TO HAVE: Short cut button/vocal command thats says “Take me home”.

    And here’s the big message for Uber. Do you realize how much MONEY is out there if you built an alternative mode for the app? How many seniors are locked into their homes and can only get out perhaps once a week? How many of these people could lead richer lives if they could tap into ride sharing?

    Seniors, if given access to a simpler Uber, would EAT IT UP! They all have at least one friend or family that would them get the app on their phone.

    HOT TIP: There are many (not all) seniors that actually have access retirement funds and if it were possible, would love an extra trip or two during the week to get out of the house. Imagine an extra $30/week in fares from who knows how many MILLION of retired seniors you could garner.

    I’ve done my part. Now, Uber, it’s time for you to do yours. What ARE you going to do to help my mother?

  • Why I might switch from @MailChimp to @AWeber

    UPDATE: I eventually switched to ActiveCampaign and have been thrilled with the results. If you’re just now reading this blog post, then simply swap “AWeber” with “ActiveCampaign”, assuming everything else still applies.

    I’ve been a big fan of MailChimp for about two years now. That’s when I started my email list.

    HOT TIP: If you are even THINKING about becoming a writer, you need to start an email list. Yesterday.

    For the first 18 months+, my list grew SLOWLY. I think I was up to 260 subscribers over that time frame despite having a free novella prequel available both on my Amazon and my site.

    It all changed when I discovered BookFunnel and turbocharged things. My list grew from 260 up to about 950 today. And that’s where I’ve started running into issues.

    With a bigger audience, I now have a mixture of fans. There are solid fans, others that have joined my street team, and some that just want the freebies. After reading Newsletter Ninja, I realized I needed to fine tune my autoresponder in several ways.

    And MailChimp don’t cut it.

    MailChimp just added labels. Nice and all, but you can’t do a lot with that. Reading the book, I wanted the ability to tag people for all the various actions they took, and based on labels, launch little mini-workflows.

    Gotten three emails and not opened any? Here’s your label. Do you open everything? Here’s your label. Click this link indicating you’re a writer? Here’s your label. And based on these various labels, I can curate content for YOU. I can write stuff that YOU like. I can build our relationship and grow closer to ALL my subscribers.

    And if you have shown little interest, I can take one last stab at re-engagement before unsubscribing you.

    MailChimp can’t launch an autoresponder based on a label. That. Sucks. AWeber does it. It handles it. It also supports applying multiple labels at any stage. (Or removing a label). That way, while someone is being onboarded, I can hold off on them receiving full blast emails sent to the main list.

    Little stuff like that.

    Why did I start with MailChimp? Because it was easy. Because it was simple.

    Okay, because it was FREE. MailChimp is free for the first 2000 subscribers. In the past two years, some $20/month subscription cost would have tallied $480. My list will cost $29/month, but it may be worth it to curate a more solid bunch of fans. We’ll see.

    Happy writing!

  • How to sell your book – Part 5 – Keywords

    Last week, we explored how to sell your book by picking suitable book categories. Today, we are going to explore the magical world of keywords.

    What’s a keyword?

    If you’ve spend five minutes searching the Internet to learn about advertising or online marketing, you’ve heard of keywords. Or at least you’ve heard the term. So what are they?

    In case you haven’t caught on, selling your book is really tricky NOBODY knows your name. To continue this example, big bucks are spent on authors that **wink wink** don’t need it. When James Patterson releases a new book, do you REALLY think his publisher has to hire live actors and dress them up as Secret Service agents standing by a mock Whitehouse at a London book rally?

    They probably don’t. But they can afford it because he rakes in BIG SALES.

    Alas, you and I do NOT have a million fans ready to buy our next title. Hence, we must work for every sale. And one of the tools to help connect our writing with a read are keywords. Which brings me to one of the biggest discoveries since I started learning self publishing:

    A keyword is comprised of one or more words.

    That factoid doesn’t doesn’t sound like much, but it is. What you are looking for are combinations of words that other people have used before. We could be talking at Google, at Amazon, or wherever. But the key is, you can your book associated with things people are searching for. Cuz hopefully, the NEXT person that searches that phrase will find YOU.

    How do you find a keyword?

    And so how do you find these magical words that let people beat a path to your door? The simplest thing is to start typing combinations of words that describe your book. In this day and age, Google and Amazon have instant search. Lists pop-up, trying to guess what you’re typing. It’s based on what you and others have typed in the past. You can use this to divine combinations others have searched.

    So, experiment. Try different combinations. Write them all down. One tactic mentioned by Dave Chesson is to type your core keyword, and then add an “a”, looking for “a”-words. Then “b” for keyword + “b”-words. Then “c”, and “d”, and so forth.

    This is a great way to unearth some keywords, but a small nugget of information is missing.

    • How many have searched each of those keywords?
    • How many other books are linked to those keywords?
    • How are sales related to those keywords?

    Essentially, which keywords have the best money relative to smallest amount of competition. In other words, which keywords are not overused but still yield some decent sales.

    Which brings me again, to this fabulous tool: KDP Rocket.

    KDP Rocket comes with many features, the first being keyword research. In case you don’t remember, my novel Darklight is a coming of age, portal fantasy. So to help people “find it”, I did a bunch of digging around with KDP Rocket. Below you can see the results:




    1. Click on “Keywords” on the top-left of KDP Rocket.
    2. Enter “coming of age” as my search criteria.
    3. KDP Rocket spits out all these possible keywords. (Remember: EACH item is a separate keyword)
    4. Right off the bat, it shows me number of works using the same keyword (competitors), Google searches/month, and Est. Amazon searches/month.
    5. By clicking “Analyze” on the ones I was most interested in, KDP Rocket dug up Average Monthly Sales as well as a Competition Score. The Competition Score ranges from 0-100, with 100 being the most competitive ranking, i.e. too MUCH competition.

    Looking at the results, the highlighted ones show some of the best average revenue, but also the highest competition. Looking at the top and the bottom, lower competition scores are shown for both “coming of age fantasy adventure” and “coming of age adventure”.

    These right away show potential keywords that others are searching for and may not be AS popular as some of the others. And both are candidates I can choose to help pave a path to my door.

    Putting keywords to work

    Using KDP Rocket, you can brainstorm a fistful of keywords in probably ten minutes or less. So what do you do with this info?

    On the KDP Dashboard, where you upload your book and set all the details, one of the spots lets you pick up to seven keywords. (Again, seven DIFFERENT combinations of words). If you’re self publishing, you do it yourself. At any time, you can update your keywords.

    If your are publishing through a small press, you must send the information to your publisher and ask that they apply these changes. I actually revised the keywords for ALL of my wife’s titles after getting my hands on KDP Rocket.

    Finally, sit back and see if that doesn’t help your sales grow. Depending on the rarity of the keyword you pick, you might notice a keen difference.

    That combined with all the other things we’ve discussed will definitely help get your book out there. And make money!

  • How to sell your book – Part 4 – Categories

    In the previous post of this series, How to Sell Your Book, we dove into cross promotions. In this installment, we are going to dial into the topic of book categories. What are they, and why are they the difference between getting buried with 10,000 other books vs. dominating a smaller, more focused niche of readers?

    What are categories and why should we care?

    Before we indulge in this topic, it’s important to establish a key bit of information. According the Amazon: Decoded by David Gaughran (which you can get for FREE), Amazon’s mission is quite simple:

    “Amazon’s goal is to show you the book you are most likely to buy.” –David Gaughran (paraphrased)

    This mantra is a major upheaval to the existing publishing industry where the big publishing houses control the most critical spaces in every bookstore, especially those tables when you enter the store. Instead of showing you the books THEY want you to buy, Amazon has committed to show you the books YOU want to buy. Even at a loss to Amazon. If you prefer a $0.99 over some $9.99 book, Amazon will show it to you. (This has been proven by independent researchers multiple times.)


    Because even if they lose money up front, a customer for which they’ve built a sense of trust will return again and again. A profitable investment indeed. And this brings us to categories.

    When you upload your book to the great ‘Zon, you are allowed to pick the categories it’s listed in. That way, people that are interested in that genre, people that have purchased books in that category, have a chance of finding YOUR book and buying it. People that have purchased a dozen cozy mysteries may make YOUR cozy mystery their next choice.

    Categories are metadata to help people find your book. Since we can’t all be James Patterson, it pays to make it EASIER for likely buyers to find our book, right?

    Is your book in the right category?

    For starters, there are tens of thousands of categories. In fact, Amazon has created new ones based on emerging markets. Just a few years ago, LitRPG didn’t exist, but today it’s one of the hottest. And guess what? If you upload your book to Amazon, you can NOT find it on the list of categories shown!

    Say what?

    Yup. Amazon only lists a small subset of possible categories on the upload page. These are “industry standard” categories and you’re only allowed to pick two.

    Before we talk about alter your book’s categories, let’s first explore HOW TO FIND these other categories. Categories you have observed other books being a part of, but are not made available when you publish your own work. There are many different ways to find them. You can look up comp titles and see what categories THEY are in. Scribble them down on paper.

    Another way to view a book’s categories is to find it’s ASIN (Amazon Standard Id Number) and copy it into the search bar. Then navigate down the trail of categories on the left hand side. In the screenshot below, where I’ve pasted in Darklight’s ASIN in the search bar, you can see the category listing to the left as Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Literature & Fiction > Geography & Cultures > Where We Live > City & Town Life.

    First of all, why put my book in this weird and perhaps non-obvious category? Because this category is small, niche, and yet filled with scifi/fantasy works that are connected with some urban setting. Darklight fits that description perfectly. And at the time of writing this article, my book is hovering at #37. In the slightly wider category of Teen & Young Adult Coming of Age Fantasy, my book ranks at #1073.

    If the answer isn’t obvious, in one category I am in the Top 100 with a shot at becoming a best seller. In another, I’m not even in the Top 1000.

    Second, how did I find this cryptic category? While I’d like to claim I roamed the Amazon store for hours, seeking the holy grail of niche categories, the truth is I used a highly specialized tool. Which brings us to the next piece of this article.

    KDP Rocket

    I discovered it earlier this year. And the results have been nothing short of SPECTACULAR.

    KDP Rocket has several features, but the one feature we’ll focus on in this post is its category search.

    To find potential categories, you need to think of a keyword describing your book. (NOTE: “keyword” isn’t confined to a single word). Let’s continue using my novel Darklight as an example (it’s my blog site, right?)

    It’s good to know that Darklight is a portal fantasy. Here’s one tactic we could use to do some category research:

    1. Manually enter “portal fantasy” in Amazon’s search box,
    2. Go to the first book you find.
    3. Visit each category this book is a part of.
    4. Writing down the #1 book and #20 book’s ABSR scores (Amazon Best Seller Ranking). That’s the range your book must achieve to get into the Top 20 for that category.
    5. Rinse and repeat for every category of every title on that first page of Amazon search results.

    Whew! Sounds like a lot of work, right? Guess what. This is what KDP Rocket does for your on its “Categories” feature (top right button on the screenshot below). While it might take me a couple hours to do all that work, the following output is what KDP Rocket found for me in about 30 seconds.

    If you look closely at this report, one VERY tasty category is right in the middle: Fantasy > Myths & Legends > Norse (when expanded). If you’ll notice, this book only requires an ABSR of 67,206, i.e. 4 copies sold, to make the Top 20. If Darklight were a portal fantasy that involved Norse myths (Thor fan fiction, anyone?), it would be a ripe candidate. Alas, it’s not, but you see how this works.

    Try a few combinations of words that describe your book, and you can uncover niche categories that you can try to dominate. That would lead to better results than putting your book into something too mainstream like Action & Adventure > Science Fiction (shown at the top). That one requires that you sell 132 copies each day to make the Top 20!

    In case you didn’t know, if you put your book into some low level niche category, it’s automatically a part of the categories above it. The irony is that the Big 5 publishers DON’T KNOW THIS. They put many of their own authors into these broad categories and set them up for failure. Use the information self publishers have learned and try to find the most niche categories you can find. If you can appear in the Top 20 of some category, let alone become #1, it will boost your sales.

    Adding your book to these other categories

    If you’re still reading, then I have hopefully convinced you of the importance of category research. And on the value of finding the most niche category you can find that is still relevant to your title. So the question that naturally arises: how do I put my book INTO those categories?

    If YOU published the book, then all you must do is visit Author Central and login. Go to the Contact Us link and select:

    • Select an issue: My Books
    • Select details: Update information about a book > Browse Categories > I want to update my book’s browse categories
    • Form of contact: Select Email or Phone (Last time, I used Phone, and completed everything in about five minutes)

    Did you know your book can be a part of up to TEN CATEGORIES? You may not see them all on the sales page, but they are there. Once you make these changes, the next time a sale goes through, your categories will update. And the ones that you rank BEST in will appear! (After all, Amazon wants your book to work with the most likely fans, right?)

    But what if someone else is publishing your books? Then you must request that they do this EXACT same process. If your publisher is familiar with altering categories, great. If not, invite them to read this blog page! (Greetings, Publishers! If this is the first time you’ve heard of altering categories, this could be one of the key tips you’ve been seeking to make more money!)

    By putting your book into the right categories, categories you can dominate, you are giving your book a leg up against the competition. And more importantly, you are helping readers find books they are more likely to be interested in reading.

    Stay tuned for the next blog post where we’ll dig into more of this keyword stuff!

    Disclosure: I use affiliate links for products I’m a big fan of. KDP Rocket won’t cost you anymore if you decide to snag a copy. Simply put, part of the sale price is shared with me.
  • How to sell your book – Part 3 – Cross promoting your work

    In the previous installment of How to Sell Your Book, we discussed building up a collection of fans. In addition to putting your works in front of people on Amazon, etc., you also want to curate a list of people that are super excited about your writing. One of the most effective ways I’ve discovered is through cross promotion.

    Solution to a pesky problem

    I started a couple years ago building my email list by using what Nick Stephenson calls a reader magnet. I had written a short story prequel to my novel and put it out on Amazon, getting them to make it “permafree”.

    It was okay, but it seemed a tad sluggish. In that two year span, I accumulated about 260 people on my mailing list, many based on a technical best seller I released last year. The issue was that not enough people seemed to be finding my free reader magnet hosted on Amazon.

    Several months ago, I signed my wife up for an account on Book Funnel so that we could do two things:

    • Send copies of her novels to street team members
    • Send copies to people we were hoping would write a review (a la Book Review Targeter)

    When it comes to sending an e-book to someone, Book Funnel kills it. Absolutely kills it. Their platform is built on the ability to send a one-time download link, so no one “share the link” with a Russian piracy website. Additionally, Book Funnel takes on the job of side loading e-books onto people’s devices. Never again do you have to walk someone through the process of moving an Amazon MOBI file onto their Android reader device (or whatever).

    Since Sara’s website was already hooked into MailChimp, I didn’t think we needed much in integration, but I went ahead and sprung for the extra $50/year fee to have the option of integrating email subscription with receiving a download link.

    A few weeks later, I browsing around Book Funnel’s website, when I spotted “Promotions”. Clicking, I spotted a whole host of campaigns that were underway, split up in genre’s with 10-30 books listed in each. I was amazed at the look and feel, so I quickly pushed Sara’s magnet novella up to Book Funnel and registered here with a clean historical romance promotion.

    Then I promptly forgot about it.

    A week later (yes, exactly seven days), Sara logged into MailChimp and discovered her email list had grown by 400 members. My eyeballs popped out of my head!

    Up until then, her growth rate had been slow. The fastest boost had been some Ryan Zee signups where you get around 500 addresses for $60. Watching her list grow by over 20% in a week told me to look closer.

    Promoting others is less slimy than promoting yourself

    In the olden days, a cross promotion involved tricky coordination with multiple authors. Imagine your and ten others want to work together. You each have 500 subscribers. By talking about everyone else’s works, you can avoid talking about your own. Which always feels better, ehh?

    Everyone then writes a newsletter campaign to their list talking about ALL the books. In this scenario, we’d be talking 5000 people NOT ON YOUR LIST finding out about your work. If 10% of those people spring for your freebie, you’d pick up another 500 subscribers, a 100% growth. This is the beauty of cross promotions.

    But the cost was HORRIBLE!

    Coordinating such campaigns back then was HARD. You’d have to email cover thumbnails to 10 other authors while receiving 10 covers from them. Then you’d have to upload them to an email campaign. On top of that, you have to paste in the blurb for each title. Lots of duplicated effort.

    The alternative would be to grant one person the keys to the kingdom and either give them ALL email addresses, or let them log into ALL systems. The first is probably illegal by now, at least in the EU. And the latter is flat out risky.

    Along comes Book Funnel, a platform based on transmitting books. To join a cross promotion, you simply click on the “Promotions” section of the site, scroll through a genre-based list, click on one that appeals to you, a register a link to one of your books. From there, all you must do is broadcast a link to the giveaway (see the screenshot) on your various channels. Book Funnel handles cover thumbnails, subscribing to mailing lists, and side loading the e-books.

    It’s super easy and leaves the messy details of coordination to the platform. And because it’s so easy, like me, you can sign up to be a part of several cross promotions. Since I joined Book Funnel four months ago, my list has gone from that measly 260 number up to 900. I know 900 isn’t super glamorous, but it still is a WHOPPING improvement with very little effort. Sara has picked up around 1000 new subscribers in the same time frame.

    To top things off, the whole experience of the giveaway is tilted toward the users. They can sift through all these books, pick out what looks nice, snag a copy, and enjoy it. There is nothing sinister. Everyone wins!

    And you don’t have to feel slimy about going around and pitching your own stuff. Ever try to sell something and it made you want to take a shower?

    BONUS TIP: One last thing. Book Funnel lets you create as many download links as you like for each book. And they gather stats. Thus, you should create a new download link for every single cross promotion you join. That way, you can keep tabs on how many copies of your work are downloaded through what channels.

    Get your funnel going!

    One last detail I will leave with you is that if you haven’t created a funnel, you’ll want to do so whenever you dive into cross promotions. When Sara picked up that burst of 400 new subscribers, her first action was to write a “welcome to my list” email. Natural thing, right? A week later, she had another 100 subscribers, and was about to do the same thing.

    I stopped her and said, “That’s crazy! We can’t keep writing this email over and over. We need to automate that step.” So I set out to essentially borrow they email she had just sent out and turn it into an automated message sent to EVERYONE upon signing up to her list. Now there is one less manual step needed to welcome people into Sara’s group.

    With, I leave it to you to visit Book Funnel and decide if this is the way for YOU to supercharge your email list! Stay tuned for the next article in this series. Happy writing!

  • How to sell your book – Part 2 – Fans

    Last week we embarked upon a blog series on How to Sell Your Book, focused on advertising. To recap, unless you are a household name like JK Rowling or Stephen King, you NEED advertising. If you don’t perpetually put your works in front of your potential readers, you’ll get pushed to the side. In today’s installment of How to Sell Your Book, we will talk about fans. The people that love your work. The ones that will, in the future, buy every single one of your books in the future and enjoy them.

    The problem

    When you begin you’re writing career, you suffer from an affliction some call DontKnowMeOsis. This is evidenced by the fact that when you push your first title to KDP, it will likely show little in sales and slide every gracefully into Amazon’s Millionaire’s Club. It’s patently obvious – no one knows who you are. People can’t buy your book if they’ve never heard of you. Nick Stephenson describes this as performing for an empty hall. What can be further disenchanting is if you think the cure is writing more books?

    Writing more books is critical to an author’s career, yes, but this won’t, by itself, bring you fans.

    That’s why you need to build a mailing list. The joke is that you need to start that yesterday. A collection of people that like your work, a list of emails YOU own (not Amazon, not Facebook) is one of the most prized assets a writer can accrue. And it takes time. When you are three months out from your next release, it can be taxing to realize you can’t grow that list fast enough!

    Finding your fans

    Assuming you’re sold on the value of having a list of fans, the next question often becomes: where do you find these fans?

    Makes sense. If you couldn’t find these people when it was time to sell a book, how can you find them and convince them to join a list?

    To entice someone to signup for your newsletter you need to give away something for free. Ideally this would be a sample of your writing similar to your published works. A short story prequel to the first novel of a series would be a prime candidate.

    If you have already published a novel, adding a page right after the end of that story with a link to a sign up page including a promise of a free short story is a golden opportunity. You can put something like “Want to find out what Jimmy actually DID in Vegas? Join my mailing list and find out, for FREE”) This will certainly start slow, but pitching every single person that reads your book cover to cover will curate some solid fans for sure.

    You can also put the very same short story (sometimes called a “reader magnet”) out on Amazon and then get Amazon to make it permafree. Inside the e-book, be sure to include a link at the beginning and the end taking them to your signup page, indicating they’ll get a SECOND goody, absolutely free.

    And yes, I said a second free e-book. You want to make it well worth the person’s time to sign up for your list. Two free e-books in the same genre that you write not only is incredible value to the person, but it also shows off your work. (Hence, the magnets SHOULD be well edited and have crips, genre-specific covers.)

    Additional opportunities include using plugins to create a subscription pop-up as well as a link at the bottom of your email signature.

    The last way to find fans, and that has TURBOCHARGED MY GROWTH has been cross promotions with other authors. A bunch of authors team up, preferably from the same genre, and pool their reader magnets into a list. Everyone broadcasts it to their list and social media channels. It’s not as slimy as asking someone to sign up for your own list. You get to say “Like fantasy? Here are thirty free fantasy stories you can download!” with yours somewhere on the list. The synergistic effect of 20 OTHER authors sharing your magnet with 10,000 people or more is incredible! I went from 260 people accumulated over two years to almost 800 in just three months. Book Funnel is a service that includes cross promotions in their platform, something I would highly recommend.

    Once you have a pipeline toward finding fans, your next step is retaining them!

    Prepping your fans

    One of the worst things you can do is build a list of email addresses of people that have no interest in your work. Also, people that aren’t interested in reading, writing reviews, or possibly helping with future launches in any way. What’s the point of them using up space on your list (especially if you have so many you are paying your list provider?)

    That’s why you need to groom everyone that joins your list. You want them to either love you (and stay on forever) or hate you (and unsubscribe). To do so, you need to configure an autoresponder. This is series of automated emails sent out over time to everyone that joins. This is also referred to as funnel.

    The very first message you want to send out includes the link to the freebie book. If it’s possible to subscribe without getting ANYTHING, your first message should be the first magnet. In my case, The Job: A Darklight Chronicle is my hook toward signing up. Depending on how sign up, you may/may not already have it. To cover all bases, I send an email message including a download link.

    The second message you want to send includes the OTHER freebie. I send out a copy of Uprising: A Darklight Chronicle, explaining that THIS e-book is found nowhere else on the interwebs. This should increase the value. A book that can’t be found ANYWHERE else creates urgency and desire.

    The third message can include a reminder to snag these other books. Remember, you’re not only looking for fans, you’re grooming them to be look for emails, not forget about you.

    The fourth message is when you can pitch your current book. That could be the first book of a series or your latest. You choose. But this is the first time you will be actually asking someone to BUY something. By now, they will have received two free e-books, or have departed. Either way, it’s OKAY to pitch something.

    The fifth and final message I suggest is to ask them to join your  “street team“. Your street team is a collection of fans that are willing to read advanced reader copies (ARCs) of your NEXT novel, before it’s released, in order to snag early reviews. The hook is that ARCs are free. Your street team, in exchange for donating their time to read and consider writing a review, should get an ARC for free. Finding a team of a few hundred fans that will write a review for your next books is worth much more than whatever dollars you lost.

    Book reviews on Amazon and other platforms elevate your book by giving shoppers social proof that your book is worth buying, and building a team of people to give you reviews in essential.

    Bonus emails: I also have an additional sixth message in my funnel. To further grow my fanbase, I took details about the main character and created a PDF. It also includes pictures of the character extracted from a Pinterest board. It gives people on the list extra motivation to stay. I also have a secondary autoresponder. It detects anybody that actually clicks on the Amazon link to my novel found the fourth message, asking them to consider writing a review.

    Sharing upcoming works with your fans

    So after setting all this up, what do you with your list of fans? Quite naturally you ALERT them to new releases! As your launch day approaches for your next novel, start sending a series of emails. Alert them that something new is coming soon. Send them an opening chapter in advance to whet their appetites. Share the cover to build anticipation.

    Make it VALUABLE to be a member of your list. You see, if you just send out a message saying “buy my book” on the day it’s visible on Amazon, you are cheapening things. These people have spent time reading past works, possibly wrote reviews, and hung on through past emails. Reward their loyalty by giving them early access. The people on your street team, give them the most “inside” stuff.

    If you have access to reviews, you can include some of that in your launch emails. And because Amazon now prefers trends over sudden spikes, if your list is big enough, consider splitting up your list and sending your message to the first fifth on Monday, the second fifth on Tuesday, etc.

    We can also discuss more about leveraging your list during launches in future posts in this series. The important thing is, if Amazon is gone tomorrow, if Facebook and Twitter are gone tomorrow, having a list of dedicate fans that YOU own and that YOU control is always a good idea and not something to take lightly.

    Stay tuned for my next post in this series and happy writing!


  • How to sell your book – Part 1 – Advertising

    I’ve recently learned several tactics to sell your book, and I wanted to share them with you. Several people have asked how I started moving books that had long ago joined Amazon’s Millionaire Club (a club no one wants to join!) After repeating myself several times, I figured it better to capture my advice in a blog post. Gathering my thoughts, it’s clear this won’t fit into a single post. So gear up for a multi-episode posting on tactics to sell your book, kicking things off with the most important facet of all…


    Is your name JK Rowling? Stephen King? James Patterson? If so, thanks for visiting my blog! If not, then take heed. Unless you are a household name, you need advertising. I remember a few top notch, award winning novels that came out a couple years ago, only to discover they had joined Amazon’s Millionaire Club. This caught my attention so I hastily looked up other clinching novels I had read over the past 2-3 years, and was shocked that many had achieved the same fate. Apparently, if you don’t actively keep pushing your books, surprise surprise, they stop selling.

    On the flip side, I released Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition back in November, and that book has stayed in the Top 100 for Java development for months. Why? Because if you type “Spring Boot” in Amazon’s search bar, it keeps coming out on top. My publisher is pouring advertising dollars into this book, and it’s working. Resign yourself to the fact you MUST advertise in order to sell your book, and discover it’s possible to actually make some money.

    I kind of knew this was the case. Deep down, anyway. I had heard about Mark Dawson, a lawyer in the UK that started writing in 2012, became a best selling indie author in 2014, and quit his legal career by 2016 after selling half a million books. He had learned to use Facebook to grow his email list and build a fanbase that would surge each new novel to the top of Amazon’s ranks. So on a “yeah, I get that” kind of level, I understood. But on the “let’s try and run some ads” level, not so much. Back in March I used KDP Rocket for the first time to launch a campaign. I gave up after two weeks and shut it down because after paying Amazon their 30% cut, I was losing money.

    Enter Brian Meeks. I had learned about this fellow listening to Dave Chesson’s podcast (highly recommend listening to the same episode!) while driving to a meetup in Nashville. Brian Meeks once worked as a data analyst for Geico, but retired to become a full time author three years ago. On the podcast he explained how he was spending $40,000 a year and netting $120,000. He had detailed spreadsheets tracking what worked and what didn’t. He preached relentlessly about test, test, test. Start small and test. Adjust your ad copy and test. Rewrite the book’s blurb and test. Test, test, test!

    And at the end of that episode, he revealed the real gold: he had distilled this knowledge in a book, Master AMS Ads, on sale for $9.99. That night I purchased it and read the whole thing in 48 hours.

    And everything changed. So let’s dive into what it takes to mount an advertising campaign.


    To get started, you must understand some of the lingo. It’s not that difficult.

    • Impressions – when people see your ad, it’s an impression. Impressions don’t cost you anything.
    • Clicks – when people see your ad and decide to click on through to look at the book’s selling page. Clicks cost money.
    • Conversions – when people look at your book’s selling page and decide to buy. Conversions are when people give you money (after Amazon’s cut)

    These three metrics are in fact the most important bits of data to gather about your book. Leveraging these stats is probably the biggest thing you can learn to be successful as an author.

    Let me repeat: understanding impressions, clicks, and conversions is the biggest thing you can learn to be successful as an author.

    The world of advertising is built on large numbers. If one person sees your ad, the odds are heavily stacked against you that you’ll complete a sale. The process of selling involves showing people your ad (an impression), that potential buyer being interested in the cover, the title, or your snappy ad copy enough to click, and then being wooed by the book’s description and reviews to buy it.

    Some common figures are that for every 1000 impressions, one person will actually click. This is considered a good “click through rate”, that a good ratio of clicks per impressions. But clicks don’t equal sales. In fact only a subset of people that click on an ad will actually buy. This ratio between clicking and buying is known as your “conversion rate”. That is, the rate you convert a browser into a buyer. According to Mastering AMS Ads, it’s quite common for a given book to require 30 clicks before making a sale.

    In the land of advertising, in a process invented by the founders of Google, ad clicks are auctioned off. When you create an ad, you tell Amazon how the maximum you will pay for a click. Other authors and publishers put in their bids, and when Amazon is deciding to respond to a buyer’s book search, they conduct a mini-auction and decide whose ad to show. If the buyer clicks the ad, you pay for that click.

    Imagine you put together an ad and were bidding $0.20 for each click. If it takes 30 clicks to make a sale, then you can easily calculate the total cost. Multiply your per-click cost by total number of clicks and you arrive at $0.20/click x 30 clicks => $6.

    $6 for one sale?!? What if you’re book is listed for $3.99? According to Amazon’s royalty rates, selling that title will only pocket you about $2.79. Subtract the $6 ad spend, and you’re looking at a loss of $3.21. Yikes!

    And here we see the reason so many throw in the towel so quickly on Amazon ads. Did you know how to work that math? Were you aware that this ad campaign would fail before it got started? Now that you know the secret formula, we can work our way toward a PROFITABLE ad campaign.

    Advertising Successfully

    For starters, listing a book at $3.99 is doomed to fail. At least it stacks the odds against you. Why? Because there is little room to run any ads. According to Brian Meeks, a conversion rate of 1 sale per 10 clicks (or 1:10) is AWESOME! Translation: if you had the same bid of $0.20 per click as before, 10 clicks would only cost $2.00. Spending $2.00 to gross $2.71 doesn’t leave much room for any profit or fluctuations in your conversion rate.

    One of the biggest lessons I learned from Brian Meeks’ tome was that you should actually RAISE the price of your book so you have a fighting chance to not only pay for the ads but also walk away with a little money. Thus, I pushed an experimental title’s price from $3.99 to $5.99.

    Won’t raising prices kill all your sales? If you test things out, you’ll find that consumers don’t care a whole lot about $3.99 vs. $5.99. If you move toward $7.99 or higher, sales may start to shift. But a couple bucks change in pricing seems to have little affect on purchase rates.

    So let’s push that book’s price up to $5.99. At $5.99, if we still have that 1 sale per 30 click ratio, we’d be breaking even before Amazon’s take. So what do we do???

    One option is to decrease your bid. Cut your bid in half to $0.10 per click and then your 1 in 30 conversion rate would only cost $3.00 to make a sale. Since that higher price would yield $4.19, you’re looking at netting $1.19 per sale. PROFIT!

    It can’t be that simple, right? Everyone would be doing it!

    Yes and no. By decreasing your bid to $0.10, there’s a chance your ad would be beat out on almost every auction and never get shown. This would result in few to zero impressions. An ad that never shows is a signal for a new ad. Or something else.

    If you caught on to my hint that cutting your bid per click in half is NOT the answer, you’re right. That pesky 1 in 30 conversion rate is what’s holding us back.

    When people make the final decision to buy, research shows that the book’s description is the most critical factor. This is fancy speak saying if you’re conversion ratio is 1 sale every 20-30 clicks, you should seriously consider rewriting it. If you have a book that converts 10 clicks into a sale, you are now sizzling.

    Going back to the numbers, if you use that original bid of $0.20 per click but now only need 10 clicks to make a sale, you’re talking $2.00 to close the deal. With a price point of $5.99 (leaving you about $4.19 for you), you’re now looking at a profit of $2.19 when the dust settles.

    While $2 doesn’t sound like enough to even buy a Cherry Coke, remember that the visibility these ads will generate for your book can result in MANY sales. If you made less than $50 over the past six months, the thought of selling 20 copies this month at a tidy profit of $2.19 each must sound incredibly exciting!

    If you’ve tried advertising and found it a terrible experience, hopefully I’ve given you reason to revisit it. If you have been on the fence about advertising, worried it’s too hard, hopefully you’ll reconsider it.

    Stay tuned for my next installment on how to sell your book.

  • Why writing framework code is different than end user apps

    Something I have noticed in many conversations, whether on twitter or in real life, is that we never have enough context. When people describe all the challenges they face writing code, it’s hard to grasp the culture various developers experience. And culture is key. But another overlooked aspect is exactly who is the customer for your code. That’s because writing framework code is different than end user apps.

    What is framework code?

    To make this comparison, we must answer the question: what is framework code? What’s different about it and what’s the same?

    Framework code, when done right, helps people write end user apps. The more apps people can write, the better the framework. A framework that helps you write one app but not the next isn’t much of a framework at all. In other words, frameworks must handle some common problems that people run into. They must simplify things for the developer and actually handle a problem they would have to handle themselves. Over and over. Otherwise, developers aren’t interested.

    The most widely used, yet smallest, framework code I can think of is leftpad. This itty bitty library reached epic visibility when the developer pulled it from npm. The impact against all the toolkits and frameworks was incredible, filling the Internet for days (including an opinion from yours truly). In essence, people use frameworks to solve a problem so they can shift focus and work on what their end users really need.

    Frameworks are about solving generic problems. To be widely adopted, it must be very effective. One of the most effective aspects of a framework is being able to upgrade without breaking your end user app. This is one of Spring’s strongest anchorings. Use Spring, don’t get burned by upgrades. Use Spring, simplify coding Java apps.

    To carry out this backward compatibility, the Spring team takes on several responsibilities.

    • We don’t break APIs on minor or patch releases.
    • We only add to APIs on minor or major releases.
    • As a corollary, we don’t bump up the minimum required version of Java except during a major release.

    These standards have made it MUCH easier over the years for people to upgrade and inherit new benefits. To carry out these standards, we have to be VERY careful when making changes to the framework. And being such a community oriented framework, we often have to carry out detailed conversations with users and contributors to ensure these standards are upheld.

    Often, this requires saying “no to certain contributions. Even to certain ideas. When a framework takes on too much, it can become wholly unmanageable. It’s better to say no, and let end users consider adding their special case than taking on something few will use. In fact, frameworks that make it easy to extend are highly welcomed by communities for this very reason. If you won’t do it, perhaps I can?

    What is end user code?

    End user code is very different. This is code aimed at solving a particular user’s problem. Usually, this is directly tied to invested dollars. In other words, clients hire software teams to build certain things. And they expect to be rewarded for their investment with operational apps.

    The requirements gathering process isn’t perfect, but the ability to put together a list is much more concrete than framework developers, who are merely anticipating developer needs. Or trying to look at lots of different users in the community, and coming up with a general solution. How does this difference manifest?

    It’s a lot easier to throw in a partially implemented feature to an end user app, put it into production, try it out, and then remove it later. Indeed, this process is much smoother with an end user app than it is for a framework. We refer to this as agility.

    Frameworks can do this type of experimental research as well. But the dynamics are very different if you put out a poorly designed feature. What if your half baked idea suddenly becomes the community’s favorite feature? Your option is to:

    A) Live with it and maintain it.

    B) Yank it, and cause breakage.

    C) Change it, and cause breakage.

    If you have established a high level of quality, avoiding breakage can push you into a very costly maintenance cycle. If you are waiting for the next major release to remove it, and that isn’t coming for another two years, you have been coached on why you don’t want to just “throw something out there” for a framework with a strong community.

    When people argue on Twitter about the impact of breaking code, this entire dynamic between framework code and end user apps seems to go missing. Different teams are driven by different requirements. It pays to understand how writing framework code is different than end user apps. So what do you think? Is there really a big difference between framework code and end user apps?

  • How to grow your email list

    Something I learned about last year, was this thing called “reader magnets”. It was listed at the #1 way to grow your email list. Essentially, people love free stuff, so if you wish to sell books, you need to curate an email list of people that like your work. The easiest way to find such people is to give away a free copy of your work that people can sink their teeth into. I created such a short story last year. The secret sauce in that was to put on Amazon and dial the cost down to $0.00. At the end of the book, you include a link to your website, where they’ll get ANOTHER free ebook if they subscribe.

    Well I just dialed it up to CRAZY. By joining BookFunnel, I uploaded the same book and linked it directly to MailChimp. I also signed up for a handful of cross promotions where myself and several other others share a collection of free short stories. What caught me by surprise is when I logged into my wife’s BookFunnel account and configured the same thing for her freebie novella magnet.

    I had registered it with a clean historical romance promotion. She posted a link or two sharing the event, and then went to work on some other stuff. Peeking at her email list 7 days later, her eyeballs almost popped out. Almost 400 people had been added to her list!

    Reeling from the reaction, we confirmed this promotion event had indeed found a burst of people interested in reading her work and signing up to her email list. So she went and did what she always does and wrote a special “Welcome to my list” email to all those people. And then I asked, “what about NEXT week? And the week after that?” We can’t keep slugging out the greetings all the time. We’ll never keep up.

    So I sat down and created an “auto responder”. Essentially, I snagged that email she just published and linked it to an automated workflow that mails it out ANYTIME someone joins her email list. (I already have a similar one in my own). Putting it together took me maybe half an hour. I activate it and immediately found everyone that had joined since she published that email two days ago. Total: 111 people. BOOM! Into the queue. Everyone that joins will receive an automatic greeting, welcoming them into the family.

    I remember Sara writing this novella last year. She spent a solid three days of focused writing. It seemed like a big commitment for something you just give away. But now it’s paying off. And it will KEEP paying off. So take this as testimony that if you want to build your email list, the fastest way is to create something free, link it to your list, and then join in a cross promoting effort that is able to reach out to possibly 10s of 1000s of people.

    Happy writing!

  • As Pivotal goes public, I can’t help but reflect on this surreal journey. #PVTL @russmiles @pivotal

    Watching the excitement as PVTL rang the opening bell on the NYSE this morning was surreal as our company Pivotal goes public. This excitement was perfectly dovetailed by having spent an hour last night catching up with an old friend of mine. A friend that had introduced me to the Spring family while also helping to launch my technical writing career.

    Long ago, maybe around 2004, I heard about this new Java toolkit called “The Spring Framework”. Being an avid blog subscriber, I read article after article on how this toolkit reduced complexity, making Java coding fun again. Didn’t take long to sell me!

    In fact, I started coding my own variation for the Python platform, dubbed Spring Python. Soon after, some SpringSource consultant from the UK named Russ Miles reached to make it an official module. Over the next year, he orchestrated getting me into the 2008 Spring Experience conference as a speaker and also helped me pitch my first book proposal to Packt Publishing.

    At that conference, sent there by my old company, I promptly sought out EVERY SINGLE SpringSourcer, shook their hand and introduced myself, wagging the banner of Spring Python. I even cornered poor Adrian Colyer in an elevator, all by his lonesome, and greeted him. “You’re the Spring Python guy” he said. I nodded. I even hit up Rod for a bit of a chat. I remember his exact words, “It has become popular to criticize Java.”

    Upon returning home, I drove to Spring founder Keith Donald’s office (half a mile away) and handed him my resume. We chatted a bit, and he duly informed me there was a hiring freeze. My spirits were downed. I walked away with little more than a few Rod Johnson bobble head dolls and some t-shirts.

    A year later, my phone rang. “Still interested in working for Spring?”

    Uhh…YEAH! After several phone call interviews, I secured an offer from VMware, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Watching Rod Johnson take a fledgling company built on a core, visionary, radical concept, and then grow it and sell it to VMware for $420MM was incredible. But things were just beginning. Back then, many people scratched their heads at why a virtualization provider was buying a Java developer stack. I admit, it confused me a little at the time as well.

    But since then, visionaries like Paul Maritz, James Watters, Rob Mee, and many others realized the power of cloud native applications. And they saw the writing on the wall as to how many doors opened when you lead with Spring. So they started walking into shops, presenting Spring development deployed on top of Pivotal Cloud Foundry. And just like the synergy back in the day of Spring + Hibernate being like chocolate and peanut butter, business after business signed up for Spring + Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

    Watching 200-year old insurance companies and 100-year old banks picking up our software along with our practices and revolutionizing the way they developed apps has been incredible. As we grew and grew, it has culminated today, with the IPO of Pivotal.

    Spring isn’t 100% of our business. But you can’t deny it’s a critical component. Today feels as if Spring has been vindicated as a cornerstone of doing business. Rod Johnson’s acquisition back in 2009 proved the value of Spring. But today, we aren’t just another product on a company’s shelf. Today we are a critical component of how the world is changing the way they build software.