Monday, October 29, 2012

The Day I Was Almost Gay (original humor)

This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress that I performed for a story slam at night club in Cambridge, Mass.

I didn't win the slam, but it was fun, and I'd recommend this kind of event as a good way to promote your writing. For $35, I received a video that I uploaded to Youtube and inserted below.

Note: The piece carries content warnings for prescription drug abuse and men kissing on the lips. Also, animals may have been harmed making this video.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Oh, No! Experts Say Blogging Is a Waste of Time

Recently, an agent wrote that blogging could be a waste of time for fiction writers. What she said made sense. Then I found dissenting opinions. They made sense as well. What's a fiction writer to do?

The Arguments Against Blogging


1) The blogosphere is too crowded, so the average writer will never generate impressive traffic.
I seem to have plateaued at about 1,500 visitors a month, my number of subscribers increases by about 20 a month -- I now have 102. I won't be impressing anyone.

2) It's time consuming.
I spend four to eight hours on each blog -- time I could be spending finishing my novel.

3) If you blog about writing, your audience is writers, not readers.
Hmmm. Where have I heard that before? Oh, right, in my own blog. And yeah, most of my traffic is from writers. A former agent I spoke to said I should focus on blogging about topics covered in my novel, namely dating and single life. He said I should be forming alliances with dating sites. I've taken some of his advice, but I'm afraid my traffic numbers will drop! (I watch my traffic numbers the way a cardiologist watches an EKG.)

Things I could be doing instead of blogging


- Trying Twitter, Yet Again
I can't stand Twitter, it seems to be a real waste of time, a torrent of crap. But it also seems to offer the best option for connecting to potential readers and, more importantly, people who can influence a lot of potential readers. So, I'm going to focus on connecting with people with clout in subjects of interest to my potential readers: travel, singles and dating, humor.

- Applying for Fellowships at Writers Colonies and Grants.
I'm guessing a fellowship at Yaddo or the MacDowell Colony would be more impressive than having 2,000 Facebook Fans. Here's a short list of writers colonies and a longer searchable list of Writers Colonies.

- Posting and Commenting in Forums and on Blogs Frequented by Potential Readers.

- Blogging about Topics of Interest to Potential Readers.

- Finishing my novel
(Have I said this a dozen times already?)

The Arguments for Blogging (At Least in My Case)


1) It builds the resume
I've gotten freelance job offers that I've had to pass on to friends because I working on my novel. Eventually, I'm going to for another Web marketing/Web writing job, so I'll have a body of work to show.

2) I enjoy it.

3) According to this post by indie writer Yesenia Vargas, some readers of a blog about writing, may buy your novel. If people like you're non-fiction writing, they may try your fiction.

4) I may self-publish an e-book for writers about one writer's experiences in book marketing hell.

5) I'm still hoping for the serendipitous event: Some agent spots one of my blogs in a forum or Linked In group, comes to my blog, sees my other stuff and...

What I'm Going to Do Differently (at least for right now)


- My blog covers multiple topics -- writing and topics of interest to potential readers. To target the audiences separate, I plan to capture e-mail addresses for different mailing lists using newsletter sign-up boxes at the end of individual articles. Once I get enough names, I send out short, monthly newsletters that cater to readers' interests.

- Post short audios of me reading from my novel. In the past my videos and audios have generated a fair amount of traffic and these will cater to my specific audiences. For a sample, here's an excerpt called, "The Day I Almost Became Gay." (This piece carries content warnings for prescription drug abuse and men kissing on the lips.)

*Full disclosure: I have time to experiment because I'm not working. I quit a contract gig in April to finish my novel. I drive a 20-year-old car held together with Bondo and will likely need to find a part time job in April.

*Distorted face image at top of blog by Miguel Angel Pasalodos

Can't Get Enough Book Marketing?

- Book Marketing: Seven Month Progress Report 

- Book Marketing for Nitwits: SEO

- How Writers Can Earn a Living 
(Content warning: men eating lightbulbs, being run over by cars, hit with sledge hammers.)

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Marketing: E-mail Lists and Newsletters

Why Bother?

- You collect the names and e-mails addresses -- and you own them (not Facebook, Linked In, or Twitter).
- You can contact people directly via e-mail instead of waiting for them to view your posts.
- Historically, e-mail is supposed to elicit a higher response rate. (I.e. more people will buy your book or click your links.)
- You can collect names at parties, readings, and other face-to-face venues -- and add them manually. With a blog, you can add someone's e-mail address, but they have to verify that they want your blog or content, which, for many people, is an added hassle.
- Once your lists are set up, they're relatively easy to use.
- You don't have to post hourly, daily, or even monthly to stay in contact with people.
- Your hard-earned list is not subject to the vagaries and pricing schemes of social media sites.


Special Uses

- Create different e-mail lists for different types of subscribers. My blog covers a variety of topics ranging from humorous erotica to dating humor to travel to book marketing. Some experts say I should have a separate blog for each topic. Sorry. But by adding a sign-up box for different e-mail lists at the end of different types of articles, I can address different audiences. (For example, by posting a sign-up box, I can also see if anyone is interested in a particular topic. For example, if no one signs up for my "Humorous Erotica" newsletter, I won't write one.)
- On my blog, every month I have one or two people who sign up and for some reason don't verify their accounts, so they don't receive my blog. I've tried emailing, but some still have problems. I can just add them to an email list and forward by weekly blog feed to them.

How to Get Started 


1) Create a List for Each Group of Contacts

- For small lists (less than 50 names), such as those who signed up for my blog but haven't been able to verify their accounts, I added their names to a "Lonely Planet" list I created in my Web e-mail service, which is Yahoo. Yahoo and most other Web-based e-mail services limit the number of people you can e-mail at one time.

- For larger lists, such as my list of former co-workers and other acquaintances who may be interested in periodic (quarterly) updates on my book's progress, I use a free e-mail service, called MailChimp. The free version of the service, allows you contact up to 2,000 people six times a month. If I ever have more than 2,000 people, I will gladly pay a monthly fee.

- Cleaning up and uploading e-mails lists is a time-consuming process that can involve saving your e-mail contacts to another program and then uploading them to your e-mail service. I use Yahoo! Mail and went to my Contacts page and exported my contacts using the CSV option. (CSV is a format that you can edit in Excel and eliminate worthless contacts and stray information. I kept only First Name and Last Name (if I had them), and the E-mail address. Then I resaved the file as an CSV and upload it to Mail Chimp.)

I downloaded my contacts using the Yahoo! CSV option, which allowed me to edit the file in Excel.

2) Create Content for Each Group

- The shorter the e-mail the better (My note to former co-workers and acquaintances will include a few highlights with links to a blog, a youtube video, and some publications.)
- I started a real e-mail newsletter for people who attend my readings. (Even though my book isn't finished, I've reading scenes from it for years.) This newsletter includes three sections: Local reading events that may interest readers, some links to recent blog posts, and links to a few weird Web links.

3) How Often to Publish?

- I assemble and the newsletter mentioned above once a month. (I collect tidbits throughout the month and save them to a folder. Assembling the newsletter itself takes about two hours.)
- For the note to colleagues, I'll send a plain e-mail quarterly or when I have big news.
- For the other topics (Humorous Erotica, Travel, etc), I'll publish monthly -- provided I get some people to sign up.

 General Tips

- E-mail Services like Mail Chimp can track whether anyone actually opens your e-mail. If only a few people open it, you may want to resend it to people who didn't open it.
- Experts say the best time to send out an e-mail is Tuesday through Thursdays between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Experts say a lot of stuff. You might want to experiment with different times to determine your best response rate.
- Did I mention to keep the newsletter short, include lots of white space, and links? E-mail services have basic templates you can use for a semi-professional look without a lot of grief.
- Offer a freebie for people who sign up. (A free story, a free e-book of writing samples.)
- To collect e-mails on your Web site or blog, you'll use a service like Mail Chimp to create a sign in box that allows people to add their e-mails. If possible don't use the word subscribe in the sign-in box -- people will assume they have to pay for something.

e-mail newsletter sign up box
The  sign-up box on my travel site does not include the word "subscribe," a word that implies you have to pay.

For more information on e-mail and newsletters, here's a cheat sheet from E-Mail Marketing for Dummies.

*E-mail slingshot image at top of this blog by PCL-BO [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Can't Get Enough Book Marketing?

- Three Ways to Boost Your Blog Traffic

- Linked In Tips for Authors

- Feeling Depressed? Be Glad Your Not a Guy: The End for Men

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Is Web Marketing a Waste of Time?

I really wanted to title this piece, "Is Web Marketing a Load of Crap?" but I think the graphic would have turned too many people off.

 But I'm really steamed:

- In the last two weeks, my Web traffic has dropped by 50 percent. As far as I can tell, I haven't done anything differently. But part of the problem could be my over-dependence on Social Media to generate traffic. These services -- Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter -- can and do change policies and features as they see fit. They also seem to be over-saturated with users generating useless crap. (OK, I'm as guilty as anyone) I'm investing a lot of time in these services, what if they go belly up? What if they decide they don't like me and cancel my account? What there's a technical glitch I can't figure out -- where's the tech support? (Typically, we're reduced to Googling for help from other users.) Maybe it's just me, but I get the impression that their loyalty isn't to us customers who aren't paying them a nickel.

Here are my specific beefs as they relate to my online book marketing:

- My Facebook posts are being seen by half as many people. (A statistic called Reach, which used to average about 400 people, is now down to 200. I still have more than 2,000 fans, but only 1/10 of them are seeing my posts.) Here's a possible explanation that proves that I'm not insane. All I know is bad news about the company's stock price appears in the WSJ all too frequently. The company seems very concerned about its shareholders, but seems to have no compunction about screwing over Fan Page owners by limiting the number of our own Fans that we can reach.

- Linked In just introduced what appears to be another useless feature called "Endorsements," for enticing users to spend more time on the site. So, now there's a nuclear arms race to get as many of your connections to endorse you for all of your skills. Excellent! Now, you can go to Linked In and just start clicking away -- endorsements will be about as meaningful as Followers on Twitter.

- I've been spending more and more time trying to figure out Twitter. I post regularly, follow influential people and topic hashtags that supposedly are also followed by potential readers. Most of the stuff I see on Twitter is crap -- spam, inane comments, links to inane images. And all these folks that have thousands of followers but never tweet? Very suspicious.

- And I'm constantly getting e-mails from folks smarter than I am asking for help with their social media marketing. Something smells funny. (If you insist on an image...)

Sorry for the rant. Am I just in a bad mood or does anyone else think that the only people getting rich from social media are the folks who own the social media sites?

The last time I whined about online marketing:

Is online book marketing a waste of time:

Part II: Is Online Book Marketing a Waste of Time?

*Clock image at the top of this page is by Didofficiel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

*Link about Facebook changes provided by the very knowledgeable Carla Thornton.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Marketing: Seven Month Progress Report


Executive Summary

1) As my Web traffic goes, so do my moods:

- For the first three weeks of September, I had steady traffic and averaged about 100 page views a day, a new record. Then one of my stories was accepted by a small literary journal. I was interviewed by a local cable access TV station. I felt like I had turned some corner, a tipping point, agents and offers would soon fall from the heavens.

- The last week of the month, traffic tanked and I had several days with 30 page views. Had I angered the gods at Google? I considered forgoing red meat, giving $20 to the next homeless person I saw, and calling my parents more often.

- Yesterday, my traffic jumped above 50 page views. I blew the $20 at a local bar and watched the New England Patriots finally win a game. All is well in my world. (for now.)

2) Best New Strategy: Networking

This included:
- Posting personal notes and comments on other people's blogs.
- Retweeting properly and Tweeting other people's links with their Twitter handles.
- Talking on the phone with a couple of people I met online. (Details below)

The Numbers

1) Blog and Web Sites: Traffic Down Slightly, Subscribers Up

What I'm doing: Same as last month.

My traffic numbers include:
- This blog (95 percent of my traffic).
- A Web site called RandyRossMedia, an online resume that includes videos of me reading/performing, plus a query letter, platform details, and writing samples for agents and potential employers.
- A travel tips Web site called RossTravels, which I created a few years ago.  The site contains mainly evergreen articles that are still useful for people planning a trip around the world. I've been posting links to the site in travel groups and related Twitter hashtags.

- Page views in June: 2,292
- Page views in July: 2,428
- Page views in August: 2,977
- Page views in September: 2,774 (most recent month)

- Blog subscribers at end of June: 24
- Blog subscribers at end July: 48
- Blog subscribers at end of August: 71
- Blog subscribers at end of September: 95

2) Social Media

What I'm doing: Like last month, I'm posting links to my weekly blogs to groups and hashtags, as well as using Hootsuite every Monday to pre-schedule a week's worth of Tweets. My results:

Facebook Fan Page
- Fans: 2,037, up 5 from last month.
- Reach (the number of Fans who actual see each post): about 250, down from 400 last month. 
- I'm posting the same types of items, just not posting as frequently, which could have caused the decline in Reach. Also, Facebook may have changed something. I can't worry about it, and I'm starting to question how useful it is to have a Fan Page. But posting links into appropriate Facebook Groups continues to generate traffic.

- Followers: 746 up 29 from last month.
- I'm trying to focus on quality instead of quantity, but seem to getting neither. So, I borrowed yet another book from the library on Twitter marketing. (Did I mention that I think Twitter is just a bunch of noise?)

Linked In
- Connections: 1,127, up 22 from last month.
- I'm no longer allowed to add connections unless I have their e-mail address. If there is someone I really want to add, I go to their Web site or company's Web site and get their e-mail

Klout Score
Now 48, up 1 point from last month. (Big whoop, but at least it didn't go down.)

3) SEO
I haven't done anything new, but I continue to get several hundred page views a month from Google. My blog posts appear on the first page for Google searches for the following terms for which I have optimized my site:
- Book marketing
- Travel humor
- erotic humor
- humorous erotica

For the first time, when I search on my name, I appear at the top of the page in Google. Previously, the top spots were held by another Randy Ross, who is associated with Ross bicycles. I read somewhere that prospective agents and publishers may Google your name to check on your online presence.

4) Submissions and Publications

I had another story accepted by a small literary journal.
To date I've sent out six stories to about 115 publications. I've heard back from about 70 of the publications and have had four pieces accepted. (5.7 percent success rate.)

- Fall is when a lot of publications reopen for submissions -- do it now!
- If a publication rejects one of my stories, I immediately send them another one. (I've yet to have a publication accept a second piece after rejecting the first, but you never know.)

(resources and details in last month's progress report.)

Best New Strategy: Networking

This should be commonsense, but for me it wasn't: We're supposed to be having conversations with people online instead of constantly hurling our links at them.

So, here's what I did (results below the screen shot):

- Signed up for other people's blogs and newsletters.
- E-mailed blogs and Web sites I like and asked if they wanted to post any of my blog pieces, published stories, or videos.
- Offered advice and suggested resources to people in forums and groups.
- Commented on other people's blog and Twitter posts. I now make a point to include their Twitter handle, so they know I've mentioned them. This should have been a no-brainer, but it was something I wasn't doing.
- I set up Twitter to alert me whenever some mentions me or my links. (Here's how to do it)

Go into your Twitter Settings, then click Email Notifications to receive alerts when you get mentioned or retweeted.

- Another phone call with someone smarter than me who visited one of my sites and then proposed a phone call. He has a site offering advice for finding an agent and other services for writers. I was skeptical and expecting a sales pitch. Instead, we discussed ways of cross-promoting and he offered some good online marketing advice.
- I called a woman who runs a Web site called The Erotic Salon. Last month, I found her site on Twitter and we exchanged several e-mails. As a result of the phone call, she posted several of my videos and plans to include one of my published erotica pieces in an anthology she is publishing.
- I added a couple more people to my Blog List (see right-hand column) and they've done the same.
- Full disclosure: I also sent lots of pitches and e-mails that went no where.

*Roller Coaster Image at top of blog: Blue Streak at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, taken by Stratosphere.  

For More of My Book Marketing Tips, See:

- "Tips for Reading Your Writing in Public"

- "Easy, Sleazy Book Marketing Tips"

- "Is Online Book Marketing a Waste of Time?"  (My Two month progress report)

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