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WARNING: These 4 Self-Publishing Myths Are Keeping You Down

This a joint guest contribution from Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt.

Too many indie authors buy into the myths and lies that keep them running in circles rather than charging forward into a lucrative self-publishing career.

Before successfully writing fiction full time, we both wrote for our own blogs for years, along with guest posts for sites like Problogger. We wrote about entrepreneurship and all the blah blah blogging you’re plenty used to. But in 2012, with millions of e-readers in circulation, and hungry consumers in need of content, we made a decisive shift.

We spent the last year writing and publishing 1.5 million words of fiction through our company Realm & Sands. We’ve never been happier, and we’re writing what we want for an audience who loves us.

Isn’t that the dream of every blogger?

Fortunately, we didn’t let some of the most common self-publishing myths hold us down like they wanted. We hope you don’t either. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, avoid these myths and you too can build yourself a lucrative self-publishing career.

MYTH #1: If you self-publish, you can’t publish traditionally.

We’ve get this question all the time on our Self Publishing Podcast. It usually looks like this: “I’ve just finished my book, and figure I have two options: I’m trying to decide if I should self-publish or shop it around to literary agents. Why should I consider self-publishing instead of traditional?”

The root of this question is a fear that the writer has used up what’s inside them — often all they feel is inside them, because the notion of writing a second book feels daunting — and that they therefore have exactly one shot and don’t want to waste it. These writers (and bloggers) see self-publishing versus traditional as a binary decision wherein they can choose one or the other … but not both. If they use their only chance to pursue self-publishing, they’ll never see their book in a bookstore.

Traditional publishing is seen as “better” and self-publishing as “Well, at least you did something.” It’s publishing is often referred to as “real publishing,” as if it’s somehow more genuine or has more inherent value. We get it; if anyone can self-publish but not everyone can traditionally publish, the latter means you’ve passed another tier of approval. But does that matter? Maybe and maybe not.

Is it a mistake to self-publish that masterpiece rather than banging on doors until you crack your way into an agent or publisher?

Well, yes and no. There is some truth to the idea that a publisher won’t want a book that’s already been published … at all … anywhere … including by you. Publishers want fresh meat, so they can shape it how they’d like without worrying about your current readers who may have earlier versions.

If you have Book X and you self-publish, it’s possible a publisher won’t later be interested in Book X because it’s already out there in the world. So, if Book X is all you have in you, and your life won’t be complete unless you see Book X in a bookstore, and nothing less is acceptable, then maybe you’d better keep querying and networking and trying to get it to a publisher. If you’re a total unknown, and Book X is your first and only book, the odds are very, very heavily stacked against you, but if you want to keep at it, that’s your business.

On the other hand, let’s say you can write a second entry, called Book Y. If you publish Book X yourself, and if Book X is a big self-published success, publishers will be much more interested in looking at Book Y. You’ll be able to tell those publishers, “Look at Book X … I already have readers and fans who love me!”

Publishers always want to know about your “platform,” which means “your ability to promote the book without our help.” Racking up a few self-publishing successes before pitching traditional publishing is like playing baseball in the minors: Publishers can look at your record and see you have the chops needed to sell in the majors.

MYTH #2: Publishers can do things for you that you can’t do yourself.

There’s technically some truth to this one, but only a little, and it’s irrelevant for most writers.

Big publishers are built for scale. They can, in essence, take large things and make them larger. But the average writer will get a marketing budget commensurate with what they expect your books to sell. That means virtually nothing for most of us. There’s a certain “chicken versus egg” loop at play. Authors think it’s a publisher’s job to earn them money, but publishers don’t see it that way. In their eyes, you and your book are assets at best and liabilities at worst. You’re a stock in their portfolio; you’ll either perform, or you won’t. They won’t market the crap out of you to ensure your success. It’s more accurate to say that they will market the crap out of you if you become successful.

Book publishers can get your book into big brick and mortar stores. That’s true. But unless they expect your book to sell quite well, the publisher won’t pay the extra money to get you prominently featured in that store: face-out on the shelf, displayed in the end caps, laid out on the front tables. That positioning isn’t earned by merit. With the exception of something like staff picks, a bookstore isn’t going to think your book is awesome and set it up front. Chances are, for most authors, you’ll be another anonymous spine on the shelf, begging for attention. Your book will then have a few weeks to prove itself, and if it doesn’t, the bookstore will declare it a failure, pull it from the shelf, and return it to the publisher.

For most authors, publishers will handle editing, covers, and book packaging. They’ll get your book into stores. From publicity to promotion, the rest is up to you.

Yes, technically, traditional publishers can do a few things that indies can’t … but for most writers, those things are irrelevant, especially compared to the loss of control. You can’t make assumptions. Always weigh all sides of any deal; know what you’re getting and what you’re giving up.

MYTH #3: Self-promotion and marketing are dirty.

Much of the resistance to selling and marketing people naturally have is the fault of used car salesmen, timeshare companies, and multi-level marketers — fields based on the hard sell. Nothing matters more than nabbing the buyer, and if you must deceive and bully your prospects to get that sale, so be it. Coffee is for closers, they say. So close, at all costs.

The world’s used car salesmen and high-pressure realtors have left a bad taste in our mouths, because no one likes being sold to, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Being sold to, for most people, is something that happens almost against your will. Like an assault. When you’re sold to, the salesman might as well be putting a knife to your throat. But haven’t you ever bought anything outside of a high-pressure situation? Have you ever seen something in a store or seen an advertisement, thought you might like that thing, then bought it? That’s selling. That’s marketing. The seller set the object or service in front of you and accentuated the positives so that you could agree to buy it. Transaction done, and no one had to get knifed.

Have you ever gone to see the sequel of a movie you liked, or ordered dessert when the waiter offered it after your meal? Have you ever Super-Sized your Value Meal? Those are all examples of an upsell — another “dirty” marketing word. Yet you probably don’t regret any of those transactions.

You might, in fact, have appreciated the chance to get more of what you already knew you liked, often at a preferred price. Shocking!

We could beat this to death, but you get the point. In valid, non-sleazy salesmanship and marketing, everyone wins. Do you really feel that you “lost” and that the seller “won” whenever you buy something? Do you really feel that duped? No? So, why be hesitant when you’re in the seller’s position?

In an ethical sales transaction, the buyer and seller should be equally pleased. Each party should feel like thanking the other.

Ethical marketing is nothing more than letting people who might like your product know it exists — and, ideally, giving them some sort of a deal that makes the offer better for the potential buyer.

If you ever find yourself resisting sales and marketing, read the previous two paragraphs a few times until you believe them, because they’re true. If you refuse to believe they are — if some deep part of your brain continues to insist that all sales and marketing are about manipulation and winning at someone else’s expense — you’ll never succeed as an indie author.

MYTH #4: Self-publishing is a lottery, and you can (or have to) get lucky.

This is one-title thinking.

If you’re thinking self-publishing is a lottery (either one you hope to win or one you hesitate to enter because winning seems impossible), please do yourself a favor and look at the title of our book. We called it Write. Publish. Repeat for a reason. You must write, publish, then do it all over again.

There are success stories out there like 50 Shades of Gray, where an author had exactly one title, and that book blew up big time, but those are lottery scenarios and in no way typical. E.L. James scrambled to write the rest of the 50 Shades trilogy after she started making the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP each month, but even today every book in her catalog starts with 50 Shades. E.L. James did hit the self-publishing lottery, and never has to write another book if she doesn’t want to. But don’t let her story discourage you because it seems so unlikely. Don’t let her story encourage you, either, because you’re hoping for the same.

To the gamblers: You’re not going to have that one-in-a-million hit, so stop hoping for it and keep writing.

To the skeptics: You don’t need to have that one-in-a-million hit … because you can keep writing.

We do not believe in lightning-strike thought, or that you must hit it big to find success as an indie. A surprising hit would be great, and surely boost your catalog. We’ve raised a dozen funnels to market, with around 40 individual titles. If one of our titles hits BIG, everything sells at least a little more. But the magic is that we don’t need a big hit. The approach we believe in, use ourselves, advocate, and evangelize is workmanlike. Get one book that makes $200 per month, then create another 20 or 30 like it over time. Two hundred dollars per month is in no way a big hit, but it’s good. And achievable. It certainly isn’t the lottery.

Any good, persistent, business-minded, prolific writer can succeed if they keep writing and moving forward. For the modern writer, that’s excellent news.

Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt published 1.5 million words and built full-time self-publishing careers from scratch in 2013. In their comprehensive self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat, they tell you everything you need to know about how to do the same. The book is half price for launch (and comes with a bonus book) through Friday, December 6.

How I Diversified My Blogging Income Beyond Having All My Eggs in the AdSense Basket

Last week I wrote about the experience of almost losing my online business as a result of having too many eggs in one basket and then followed up with a post on what I did to diversify the traffic sources coming into my blog to become less reliant upon Google.

Today I want to continue talking about diversification but to switch our attention to diversifying income streams.

Ways-to-Make-Money-Blogging1

Back in 2004 when I almost went under, I not only was too reliant upon traffic from the Google Search Engine – I was also very reliant upon Google’s AdSense Ad Network as the main source of income for my business.

AdSense had been very good to me up until that point (and it continued to be for years after), but by focusing so much of my efforts upon it I now see that it left me exposed and in a risky position.

As I suggested last week, a great question to ask is:

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

At that time, AdSense accounted for 95% of my income – losing it would have had pretty devastating consequences.

I had already been experimenting with a few extra income streams in 2004 (including Amazon’s Affiliate program, some small time direct ad sales, and some other affiliate programs) but had become a little lazy in these experiments – mainly because Adsense was already doing so well (I was pretty much at a full time income from it).

As a result of almost losing it all in December 2004, I came to my senses and decided it was time to get my act together and to begin to grow some serious extra income streams.

How I Diversified My Blogging Income

Other Ad Networks

My first experiment was to try to find another advertising network that might work like AdSense. I tried a few (Yahoo had one at the time, for example) but none really converted as well as AdSense for me until I found Chitika (aft).

Chitika blew my mind. I remember the day I came across it and was impressed with it because, like AdSense, it was just a matter of copying and pasting code into my blog to show the ad – but unlike AdSense it showed ads with product images IN the ad unit. This was particularly good for me because my blog at the time was a camera review blog and I was talking about products every day.

I excitedly added an additional Chitika ad unit to every page on my photography blog at that time and the next day logged in to see how it had performed.

It did really well and that single ad unit made about 25% of what AdSense did every day.

Over the coming weeks I added more ad units and tested new positions of ads and grew that Chitika income to the point that some months in the year that followed saw it earn more than AdSense. Amazingly to me this increase in income from Chitika didn’t come at the expense of AdSense which continued to work well.

Note: Chitika ads don’t work perfectly on every blog. I myself noticed that they slowly slid back in what they earned over the next few years and today I don’t use them any more – mainly because we’ve moved to selling ads directly to advertisers (more on that below).

Making Money BECAUSE of my Blog

As my blogs and my own personal profile grew (particularly here at ProBlogger) I began to notice opportunities open up for me to generate an income by offering my services of creating other products to sell.

These largely fell into three categories – speaking, consulting and writing a book.

The speaking came first. I had already done a little speaking for free in my local area, but after launching ProBlogger I began to get paid opportunities to speak to groups about blogging.

These started off being local opportunities in my city but then grew to become interstate and international.

Similarly, as my readership on ProBlogger grew, I began to get emails from readers wanting to hire me to help them with their blogging.

I began to offer ‘blog consulting’ services where I would charge an hourly rate to advise bloggers. I didn’t stick at this for long as I didn’t find it as enjoyable as actually blogging – and I also thought I could probably help more bloggers by writing about blogging rather than working one on one with bloggers.

Also around this time I was approached by Wiley US to write the first edition of the ProBlogger book (a paper one). This book is now in its third edition.

While speaking, consulting, or the book never became million dollar income streams, they all did help me to diversify my income – they also all helped me to grow my audience and learn a lot!

Additional Onsite Income Streams

Over the years since numerous other income streams have emerged.

These have come to include the Job Board here on ProBlogger, the membership site at ProBlogger.com (stay tuned for some big news about this in the coming months) and what became my biggest income stream – selling eBooks that relate to my blogs topics.

Each of these streams started as a small experiment to see what I could learn and what I could grow.

The job board has been a slow burner income stream in many ways. It generally only sees 1-2 jobs added to it every day at $50 a pop, but over the years this has added up to bring in more than $100,000.

eBooks had a more spectacular impact on profit. Again, I started slow with a single eBook that I put together largely by myself and a little outsourcing. I didn’t know how it would go but after nervously launching it to the photography blog audience that I’d worked hard to build up, it generated over $70,000 in a week (important note: I had been blogging on that blog for years and had build a decent audience – it didn’t happen overnight)!

The success of that eBook launch led me to publish more photography eBooks (15 so far) and ProBlogger eBooks.

Other Related Sites

As Digital Photography School has grown, there have been a number of opportunities to start new related ventures off the back of that original site.

The first of these was SnapnDeals – a deals site for photographers where we promote both our own eBooks that might be on special, but also other people’s products as an affiliate.

Similarly, we’ve also launched SnapnGuides – a photography mini-eBook site (we’ve published two eBooks there so far) that are smaller and cheaper eBooks/guides on niches of photography.

I have numerous ideas for other smaller ‘sister sites’ for the photography niche that I’d like to roll out in the coming years.

Events

Four years ago I had an impulsive idea to run an event for Aussie bloggers. Six weeks later we held our first ProBlogger Training Day for 100 bloggers in Melbourne.

We’ve held this event every year since, each each time growing not only attendance levels, but also the professionalism of the event.

We’ve also added a ‘virtual ticket’ for those unable to get to Australia for the event.

While not a huge money spinner, it is another income stream in the business and helps support other aspects of what I’ve built.

Direct Ad Sales

In the last few months I’ve circled back to one of the early income streams that I touched on above – direct sales of ads.

I’ve never really stopped doing this but last month have completely removed AdSense from my blogs for the first time since I started blogging and have engaged the services of a great little team of ad sales specialists to sell ads directly to advertisers.

The initial results have been very encouraging!

While I know some people have a lot of negative things to say about AdSense, I’ve never really written it off completely. It’s an ad network that has generated over a million dollars over the last nine or so years, and the people at Google have been nothing but helpful to us. But for now, we’re seeing more potential in working directly with brands.

The Current State of Play for Me

Here’s a breakdown of my own income streams in April of this year. While it doesn’t reflect the switching off of AdSense (Ad Networks) or the increased attention to direct ad sales, it shows you how I’ve become less reliant upon any one stream of income for my blogs.

NewImage

What is Your Income Split Like?

That’s my story – what about you?

Of course there are many many more potential income streams for a blog, but I’d love to hear your experience.

Have you got a variety of income streams? Or are you focusing pretty heavily upon a single one?

How to Speed Up the Blog Writing Process [My Method]

Image by Jonathan Cohen

Image by Jonathan Cohen

Earlier today I was asked for tips on how to speed up the writing process when writing longer posts.

I don’t know that I have an answer that will help everyone with that one as I think it partly comes down to personal style, experience level and skill – but two thoughts did come to mind based upon my own experience.

And before I share them – one quick note/disclaimer…. sometimes slow is best.

While I will talk about my process for writing that has helped me get a little quicker as a writer I do think that it is important not to rush your posts. Slow blogging can lead to posts which have more depth and that are more useful to your readers.

Having said that – I think there are times where bloggers spend so long on tweaking and perfecting their posts that perhaps they could do with some speeding up.

OK – enough disclaimers – here are my two tips!

1. It takes Practice

I remember in my early days when I’d spend hours writing even the shortest of posts. While there are still some posts that are more of a grind to write and can take time (for example three days ago I spent most of the day working on the Ultimate Guide to Writing Comments on Blogs) I do think that my writing has sped up when I compare it to how I used to write.

Related to this idea of practice is that when I write regularly I find that I write faster. If I write every day I get into a groove but if I take a couple of weeks off for a vacation I often find it really difficult to get going again.

While I don’t think every blog needs to publish a post every day – I do see this as a good argument for bloggers to write something every day – just to keep your writing flowing.

2. Break it Down: How I do It

The second thing that comes to mind is that when I approach a larger topic and sit down to write what I think will be a longer post I tend write in a different way to when I write shorter posts.

Knowing that the topic is big I will often try to come up with an outline for the post before I start.

Start with a List

For me this means I almost always create a bullet point list before I start writing a longer post.

The list simply contains the main points or sub topics that I want to touch on in the post. Each point might simply be a word or two but as I create the list I begin to look at the post not as a massive overwhelming job but as a series of smaller tasks that I need to work through to write the post.

Expand Each Point

With the list in hand I will generally try to start writing a paragraph or two on each point.

Of course as I write inspiration might come and I might add in points or change their order – but with the list to work through I quite often find that the post is written before I realise it.

Introductions, Conclusions and Titles

Once I’ve worked through all the points I will usually go back to to the beginning and work on my post title, write an introduction (or tweak what I’ve already written) and will then work on a conclusion and call to action.

I know some people like to write their introduction first but I find my introductions flow a lot better if I know what I’ve written rather than writing an introduction to something I’m not completely sure of how it will end.

Make it Flow and Consider Format

Sometimes I might also need to work a little on tying points together to make the post flow but as I tend to write articles in a single sitting I will often have naturally done this as I’ve written.

The other thing to consider at this point is how I’ll format the post. Because I’ve started with a list might mean that the post ends up looking like a list. A good example of this is my recent post ‘7 Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Bloggers Burn Out‘ in which I followed this exact process and then number each of the points in the post.

Your post need not be numbered or look like a list though. Alternatively you might just use headings to start each point without any numbers (as I did recently in my post on on my Facebook experiments) or you might even choose to present the post as an article/essay without any headings.

My personal preference is to break a post down with headings, steps or into a list – mainly because I think it makes my posts easier to read (see below on this).

Edit and Polish

Last of all comes a once over to Edit and Polish the post.

I personally find that this stage works best for me if I have a break from writing – even an hour or two away from the post gives a little perspective and can help make final edits that take the post up a notch.

Good for the Writer and Good for the Reader

The other thing worth mentioning is that this style of writing (starting with a list) can end up producing articles that are not only easier to write – but easier to read.

I find that my readers often give more positive affirmations on a post if its broken down into a well organised flow and smaller sections.

This doesn’t mean you can’t go deep into a topic – but just think about how you can get to that deeper destination by breaking it down and ordering your points to get them to the place you want to take them.

How Do You Tackle the Writing Process?

Do you write outlines for posts or are you someone who prefers just to sit and write?

I’d love to hear a little about how you tackle the task of writing in comments below.

Further Reading:

If you’d like to learn a little more about my writing process check out my series – How to Craft a Blog Post which explores 10 points to pause in the writing of a post to make it a better post.

What My Wife Has Taught Me About Blogging After Just 3 Months

Next week marks the 3 month anniversary of Vanessa (my wife) starting her first blog at Style and Shenanigans.

It’s been a fascinating process to watch her plan, launch and grow her blog.

Some might imagine that being married to ‘the ProBlogger’ means she’s constantly being told what to do and being given secret tips and advice – however I’ve been remarkably restrained in my involvement and very impressed by what she’s intuitively built already.

While she’s not got a huge readership – it continues to grow and it has already opened up some pretty cool opportunities for her.

In fact having watched her over these last 3 months I have been somewhat inspired and learned a lot and in this post want to share some of the things I think she’s done well that have helped her to grow her blog’s traffic and profile already.

My hope is that in doing so it’ll help others at the beginning of their blogging journey to get their blogs rolling.

1. Focus Upon Community Management

Perhaps the #1 thing that I’ve been impressed with so far is Vanessa’s commitment to engaging with her readership.

This has shone through in a number of ways including:

  • writing in an engaging style – most of her posts end with a question that invites comment
  • every comment on the blog is responded to
  • every comment on her Facebook Page is responded to
  • every incoming Tweet to our Twitter account is responded to

This is partly just who Vanessa is (she’s very engaging and inclusive in real life) but was something that probably stretched her a little too. I remember in the early days when she would get comments from people she didn’t know for the first few times it was certainly a bizarre feeling for her to engage with them – but she’s fully into the swing of things now!

Interestingly she’s now well and truly passed the tipping point of having more ‘strangers’ reading her blog and following her on Facebook and Twitter than she has ‘real life’ friends.

2. Personal/Personality Driven Content

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.15.43 pmI wrote a few weeks ago about Vanessa’s first foray into including a few ‘selfies’ on the blog. These more personal ‘Everyday Style’ posts have continued and have been received well (they’ve been the most commented posts on the site). In fact her ‘Everyday Style’ series of posts have become something she’s become well known for of late.

Other experiments with a more personal style of content included a post about a dinner party we threw for a few friends and a couple of posts about a short trip we took.

And then there’s Facebook…. this for me has been one of the most fascinating parts of the journey because her blog Facebook Page has gone ‘off topic’ and into a more personal space than I would have predicted.

There are certainly the predictable updates that are links to new posts on the blog – but mixed in are plenty of slightly more personal updates. Photos from things she’s doing, questions, funny family moments, personal quick tips and random off topic humorous posts.

The result is that she’s got a page with pretty high engagement – in fact if I had the engagement she had on my pages relative to how many people were ‘liking’ my pages I’ve be over the moon!

3. Helpful Content

The other key thing that I think is going to work in Vanessa’s favour is that the bulk of her content on the blog is ‘helpful’ and solves problems for readers.

V is what Malcom Gladwell would describe a ‘Maven’. She is a gatherer of information, a watcher of trends and LOVES sharing what she finds. She’s been doing this on the topic of style in her friendship circles since before I met her and her blog is an extension of that.

The bulk of her content reflects that and is basically her curated collections of different themes of fashion and home wares.

Her typical posts feature a collection of suggested products on a colour style or brand theme and the comments I see on them are often people saying thanks for the suggestions.

Also of interest to me is that I’m starting to see readers leave messages asking for advice on particular areas based upon her posts.

4. Understanding the Audience

Her 7am post - got decent engagement.

Her 7am post – got decent engagement.

This morning Vanessa was posting an update to Facebook at 7am and I suggested that it might be a bit too early in the morning for her readers to be checking Facebook.

She responded that it was one of her best times of day and that when she posted that early she often got a lot of responses by 8am as people checked their phones over breakfast.

I had my doubts but as I ate my porridge I watched the comments come in on Facebook and the blog and realised she had her finger on the rhythms of her readership perfectly.

Also of interest is that she’s already noticed that some days of the week seem to get more comments on posts than others and that certain types of Facebook updates at certain times of the day get more interaction.

This is golden information!

5. Getting OFF her Blog

I’m always talking here on ProBlogger about how important it is to ‘get off your blog’ if you want to grow traffic and to monetise your blog.

Vanessa has intuitively started to do this without much prompting at all.

It is a challenge – she’s a busy person with 3 active boys (two home during the day), working a day a week, involved in a variety of community activities etc – but she’s going beyond just writing content and responding to comments.

This has happened in a variety of ways including:

  • when she’s mentioned brands or other sites in her posts she lets them know (this has already led to one brand suggesting that they might like to work with her and others linking up to her blog!)
  • reading and engaging on other relevant sites/Facebook pages
  • involvement in a small Facebook group for other bloggers in her niche
  • responding to opportunities that other bloggers and media have already offered her to guest post on them

By no means is it easy to get everything done (and there will always be more that you can do) but I’m always amazed at what happens when you push open doors and get active about engaging off your blog with others.

The key lesson here is to not just build a great blog and expect good things to happen to you. You need to take some initiative and get off your blog to see those good things come into being!

6. Involving Others

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.22.52 pmIt was several years after I started blogging that I even considered the possibility of other people writing content on my blogs. That’s not the case for Vanessa.

Just 3 months in she’s already had two guest posts. Both have been submitted by the one person – a good family friend – but both posts have added something to the blog that V couldn’t have written herself.

The key is that she’s found someone who writes in a similar voice and that the posts have complemented existing content on the blog (for example this post from Mandy on toys for Girls was a follow up to one V wrote on toys for boys).

7. Visuals and Creating Content for Social

CR-CollageA couple of weeks ago I shared some great image creation tools that I use to create visual content for my blogs. Vanessa is also a convert to PicMonkey and Canva and a regular feature of her posts are collages of the products that she’s talking about.

I suspect that the visual element of her blogging will only evolve in time but these simple collages have been really popular with readers and I think are a big part of the reason that her Facebook Page has had great engagement.

Visual content is gold – particularly on social!!!

Lots More to Learn

By no means am I suggesting that Vanessa has arrived or is a poster child of blogging. She has a lot more to learn (as do I). I just have loved watching her growth and development in these early months.

What did you learn about blogging in the first few months that has stuck with you ever since?

Five Lessons Any Blogger Can Learn from Organized Crime

This is a guest contribution from Steven Gomez.

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Crime in America has many names. There is the Mafia, the Mob, the National Crime Syndicate, or “La Costa Nostra” – Italian for “This Thing of Ours.” In addition to the colorful names and faces are the larger-than-life personalities that turned crime in America literally into a “booming” industry.

Figures like Lucky Luciano, John Gotti, Meyer Lansky, “Bugsy” Siegel, and Scarface Al Capone grew the mob from a bunch of small-time criminals to an empire.

What can a blogger learn from the worst criminals in America? Well, loads of bad stuff, but also some truly epic lessons in how to create a great blog.

1) Provide Your Tribe with an Identity and a Brand They Can Care About

Crime is neither glamorous nor attractive, and criminals tend not to be society’s best and brightest. No one brags about being a drug pusher, a purse snatcher, or a mugger. Yet the idea of being a “Made Man” has an allure and mystique that even Hollywood finds irresistible.

An associate is brought into a dark basement filled with shadowy figures and his finger is pricked. Blood is drawn and a lit prayer card is placed in his cupped hand, the ashes mingling with his blood. He is told that he now has a family that supersedes the one he was born into. A family that values honour and loyalty above all, demands total obedience, and offers prosperity, wealth, and respect.

The reality of the Mafia is decidedly different, but the appeal of being “Made” by the Mob has a romance that is hard to ignore.

It is an identity that promises distinction.

Author Scott Sigler calls his long-time readers “Junkies” and the Noir Factory, my blog, refers to its subscribers as “Confidential Informants.”

While no one is suggesting that you set prayer cards on fire, and – depending on your blog – it may be very inappropriate to demand blood-letting, you should instill that same kind of identity in your tribe.

If you can capture that sense of romance, that same loyalty in your readers, then you not only have a tribe, you have a “family.” Let the identity serve as a badge of honour.

2) Work with Your “Competition” to Create New Opportunities

For years after the Mafia came to America, they were ruled by the Capo di tutti capi, also known as the “Godfather” or “Boss of Bosses.”  This worked well for the Mob if the Capo was an intelligent and sensible man who was interested in the organisation’s well-being and growth.

More often than not this was not the case.

In 1929, Meyer Lansky gathered the heads of the strongest Prohibition-era gangs in America. Combining his wedding with a business conference (he was a romantic at heart) Lansky brought together diverse faces in the crime world, including many who had never worked together before. For the first time, the Irish mob, the Italian mob, and the Jewish mob all sat down together.

Lansky made them see that the Prohibition Wars caused them to lose business as well as manpower and was something that they could avoid. By working together the bosses from Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York formed a governing body, called The Commission, which would meet every five years and would also decide on internal issues as needed.

In one of the Commission’s first exercises of power, Dutch Shultz questioned their authority to have prosecutor Thomas Dewey killed.  Shultz was killed by Murder Inc. shortly afterward for challenging the Commission.

Again, while we do not recommend that you enter into illicit partnerships with criminals, it’s important to remember that YOURS in not the only voice in your chosen niche. You might not form a Commission with those other voices, but imagine the kind of effect you can have on your readers by partnering with the leaders in your field.

Even if you aren’t a leader in your niche yet, by reaching out to the “bosses” of your niche you can increase your sphere of influence exponentially, and increase your readers’ engagement.

3) Network with Your Peers Outside Your Comfort Zone

Like the Atlantic City Conference that built the Commission, the men who would become known as the “Crime Syndicate” chose to meet in interesting places not only to talk business but to build their relationships.

In places like Havana, Atlantic City, and Apalachin, New York, mobsters met with others of their kind to drink, tell jokes, and talk business. In other industries, branding strategies and logistics might be the main topics. With the mob conventions, it was all about hostile takeovers.

At the Apalachin Convention, the mob discussed the distribution of gaming interests throughout the US. In Havana the bosses made decisions regarding working with the Sicilian crime lords and how best to deal with the high profile, money skimming liability that was Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

You (hopefully) won’t engage in the same kind of networking, but you can connect with the movers-and-shakers in your niche and work towards solving common problems and cementing relationships.

For many entrepreneurs and bloggers, making acquaintances and building friendships lead to interview opportunities, traffic building exercises, and even the odd friendship or two.

4) Always Look to Expand Your Empire

Before Bugsy Siegel became a liability to the mob, he was seen as a young man of vision. A rising star in the east, Siegel was a close friend of mob boss Meyer Lansky and a boyhood pal of Al Capone. His lasting contribution to the mob, however, led him into the west.

Moving to California and embracing the Hollywood lifestyle, Siegel made the acquaintance of William R. Wilkerson, who was building the Flamingo Hotel. Shoe-horning himself in as the liaison between Wilkerson and the mob, Siegel became a guiding force for the mob’s gambling presence in Las Vegas.

While Siegel’s vision led him to a less-than-happy ending, as a blogger, when you are looking to expand your presence, you can learn from Siegel’s example.

Look for new territories that are complementary to your niche. If you write for single mom entrepreneurs, look for other markets that would interest a single mom, and connect with the voices in that field. If you are writing about weight loss with a focus on Italian food, then Italian travel, particularly active-travel, is something that should be on your radar.

Finding these growth opportunities for your blog will allow your voice and your empire to flourish.

5) Always Reward Loyalty

One of the reasons the community tolerated the presence of the mob was that they protected the neighbourhood from small-time criminals and contributed lavishly to local charities. Sometimes those charities were orphanages and churches, and sometimes those charities were policemen and district attorneys.

When someone gives you the gift of their attention, be it by subscribing to your email list, your blog feed, or friending you on Facebook, they honour you with that attention. Never take it for granted.

When you implement a campaign for new readers, make sure that you reward those have been with you for the long haul. If you offer a give-away to new subscribers, email your current subscribers to let them know how they can get in on it as well. If someone is constantly sharing your content, give them a shout-out.

Reward the loyalty of your readers and they will become evangelists for your blog, and from there it’s a small step from evangelist to enforcer.

I’m just saying.

Steven Gomez is a pulp writer in the best (or worst) tradition. He lives and dies with his favourite football team, enjoys old movies and older pulp novels, and writes constantly about pulps, blogging, and crime. To sign up as a Confidential Informant, as well as get a FREE copy of his Knockout Noir Novel – THE STANDING EIGHT – visit the Noir Factory! You can also swear at him on Facebook!

Inspire, Interact & Inform to Create Thought Leadership in Your Niche

This is a guest contribution from Will, a young entrepreneur slash marketer.

We can all agree that the most popular blogs have a few things in common – they all inspire, interact with and inform their readers. As Darren has discussed before, these three pillars should form the foundation for your blog’s content plan.

I’m not much of one for introductions, so let’s just jump right in…

As you continue reading, you’ll learn specific tactics and strategies to utilise inspiration, interaction and information on your blog.

How to Inspire Your Audience

Remember that both positive and negative emotions are inspirational; what matters is that your readers are provoked. Not in a manipulative way, but so that they genuinely want to learn more and take action.

Here’s how to create that inspiration for your fans:

Be Enthusiastic

You’ll be amazed how far simple enthusiasm gets you. When you’re genuinely excited about your niche, people notice.

So, how do you show your passion to your audience? Just think about how you’d identify an enthusiastic person:

  • An enthusiastic person loves what they do
  • An enthusiastic person works hard and takes initiative
  • An enthusiastic person wants to share their ideas and experiences

How can you display these qualities to your audience?

Tell Your Story & Share Your Own Inspirations

One of the best ways to inspire your readers is by telling them who or what helped you become the expert that you are today.  This shows them that everyone starts somewhere, plus it makes your current authority that much more believable.

If you credit another expert in your niche, all the better! You’ll be giving your readership another resource to learn from. Remember that the other authorities in your niche are your partners, not your competitors.

Leverage Controversy

Some people might call this a moral grey area, but nothing inspires people to take action like controversy.

Controversy doesn’t always have to be negative, though. For example, my buddy Kyle wrote a great post on our blog titled The Harsh Truth: Why your Side-Business is Failing and How to Fix It… While the message is controversial, the end result is that our entrepreneurial readers were inspired to work smarter and harder on their startup ideas.

How to Interact with Your Audience

Interaction only happens when your audience feels completely comfortable. So, whatever platform you push your readers to interact on, be personal, friendly and natural.

Here are a few ways to create more interaction opportunities for your audience:

Interview Other Experts

Interviews allow your readers inside the mind of an outside expert. You can discuss your own strategies and ideas while giving your readers a look at another recognized authority’s success story.

On top of that, if the person you’re interviewing has a blog, then suddenly you’ve both doubled your interaction potential by getting in front of each other’s readership. Used strategically, this can do wonders for both blogs’ traffic.

Be Available

Social networks are the obvious place to make yourself available, but remember that there isn’t a single platform that works in every single niche. It’s up to you to identify where you’ll get the best ROI… And the answer isn’t always Facebook. For example, we’ve had great results from niche forums and Reddit.

In addition, make sure you keep up with your email! Hire someone to help you, if you must, but your readers want a quick response when they contact you. Every loyal reader matters, which means that every email matters too.

Make Your Blog a Club

One of the best ways to turn a visitor into a reader is to make your blog feel like a club.

For example, Darren’s Digital Photography School and ProBlogger.Community both encourage interaction through their very name. Marketing Profs is another great example, and their membership base is staggering. Our blog, Startup Bros, also has that built-in feeling of camaraderie.

Don’t stress if your domain name doesn’t evoke community, though… An exclusive-feeling email list or Facebook group (or any other membership platform) will do just fine.

How to Inform Your Audience

The information section is last because, honestly, most of us are already pretty good at keeping our audiences informed. Usually, that’s the easy part.

However, since we tend to prioritise information, it can sometimes feel like you’ve run out of new stuff to teach. Writer’s block sets in, you start settling for sub-par content, then nobody’s having a good time.

So, here are six quick ideas you can use to maximise the information you provide your readers:

  1. Use industry news to keep your readers in the loop. Feedly.com is a life-saver after Google Reader shut down earlier this year.
  2. Use case studies and real-life examples to re-teach old lessons to your readers
  3. Create a recurring blog series so that you have a pre-filled content slot every week. Works great with industry news.
  4. Use mixed media to make old information consumable in different formats. For example, make your blog posts into videos, slideshows or podcasts. This also gives you more platforms for interaction!
  5. Publish your own surveys and discuss the results.
  6. Keep an eye on social networks – there are tons of new ideas out there if you can listen well and ask the right questions.

Your Audience is Waiting…

Each one of these content pillars – inspiration, interaction and information – could’ve each received their own full-length blog post. Instead, this post showcases some of my best ideas taken from personal experience, then leaves it open to the awesome community here at ProBlogger to fill in the gaps.

So, what other strategies have you used to inspire, interact with, and inform your audience? Share your wisdom in the comments below!

My name is Will, and I’m a young entrepreneur slash marketer living in Tampa, FL. I’ve been launching successful online businesses since 16, some of which you’ve probably heard of. If you’re curious, learn more about me and my story from the StartupBros About Page, or you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook to get my latest entrepreneurial advice.

Behind the Scenes – My Low Tech Editorial Schedule

How do you organise and plan your posts? Do you have an editorial calendar?

I like to keep things fairly informal but do use a spreadsheet to help me keep more organised than I used to. Here’s how it looks for dPS:

Editorial calendar

The left two columns are my blog posts. I publish two posts per day – one scheduled for the US audience in the morning and one for the afternoon. I’m usually scheduling these 2-3 days in advance (but up to a week or two in advance if I’m taking a trip).

The 5 columns on the right are my Facebook posts on the dPS Facebook Page which I plug in a day or two in advance also. The times at the top are Aussie time zone times but they tend to go up more during the US morning through to evening – every 4-5 hours.

The Facebook updates are a combination of:

  • New posts on the blog (2 per day)
  • Highlighting old posts in the archives (1-2 per day)
  • Discussion Questions (1 every day or two)
  • Links to hot threads in our forum area (1 per day)

Note: Much of what I do I posted about last week in my post on increasing Facebook Engagement by 200-300%.

I do move them around a bit depending upon what is happening on the blog on any given day. If something hot is happening on a post or forum I’ll push that into the schedule faster for example.

The green colour signifies that the posts are scheduled. If they are white they are just penciled in but not set to go live yet.

That’s how I roll – what about you? Do you schedule posts far in advance? Do you use a system or tool to help you do it?

When Not Completing Things Might Be Good For Your Blog

I’ve had a big mind-shift in my blogging, since I started 10 years ago… and I barely noticed that it happened.

I’ve gone from being someone who completed things to becoming someone who never quite completes things…. but in a good way.

incomplete
Let me explain.

When I first started blogging I set myself very specific, actionable tasks. Things like:

  • Each day I would try to complete a blog post.
  • When I did a redesign of my blog, I would set the goal to complete that redesign.
  • When I was asked to speak at an event, I would have the goal to complete the presentation.

I would complete the task I set myself… then move on to the next task.

It was very neat and I was able to measure my success on any given day by how many things I’d checked off my to-do list.

The problem was that I never really learned anything from what I did. I was always starting tasks from scratch rather than building upon what I’d already built.

Gradually – and it has taken 10 years – I’ve found myself seeing almost everything I do as part of a larger process of       discovery, and refinement.

While I still set myself deadlines to implement things, each time I ‘complete’ a task and set it live I’ve started to ask myself a series of questions that include:

  • What did I learn while doing it?
  • What impact did it have? How did others react to it?
  • What could I do differently next time?
  • What sparks of opportunity came out of that activity that I could extend upon?
  • What is the next step?

So now when I complete a blog post:

  • I’m asking myself whether the topic could be explored further
  • I’m watching to see whether someone asks a question that could provide a new adjoining topic to explore
  • I’m watching to see what traffic levels, comments, sharing on social media is like to learn whether that style of post could work again

When we set the new design of Digital Photography School live:

  • We immediately started watching how readers used different new features to see if they had traction
  • We monitored stats to see what impact the design had on things like page views, comments, sharing
  • We monitored feedback to see what impact it had upon readers usability but also how they ‘felt’ about the site
  • We immediately began to evolve the design based upon what we saw

Now when I give a presentation:

  • I actively seek feedback from organisers and audience members to learn how I could improve it next time
  • I always go back through the tweet stream to see what things were quoted most (it’s always something I didn’t plan to say) to see what resonated and to watch where people reacted against what I said
  • I always review a presentation to look for ways I could extend and refine it for future talks

Today, I still aim to complete things but on completion I find myself also looking at what I’ve done as the first step or a new beginning to build upon.

7 Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Bloggers Burn Out

burn outWhat do you do to avoid blogger burnout? How do you stay inspired?

Monique Frausto asked the above question on Twitter late last week and because it was a bit too big of a topic to tackle in 140 characters, I thought I’d jot a few random thoughts down here.

1. Know Your Limits and Set Realistic Goals

We all have a limited amount of time and energy to put into blogging regardless – whether we’re blogging while juggling full time work or our blog is our full time work.

The reality is we always want to do than we can fit into the time we have. So I think it is important to be realistic and know how much time we can actually put into blogging and adjust our goals and expectations accordingly.

For example, my wife – V – recently started blogging (please be gentle – she’s in her first month). While she’d love to dedicate more time to it one day, right now she’s juggling work, kids and a crazy blogger husband (and a lot more) and the time she has available to blog is limited.

As a result she’s starting out with a 3 post per week goal. I know she has ideas to generate 1-2 posts a day – I think starting out slower is going to help her to sustain it longer over the long haul and will hopefully keep blogger burn out at bay.

Keep in mind: while some argue that posting every single day is the only way to go – there are no rules. There are pros and cons of higher frequencies of posting. You’ve got to choose a frequency you can sustain.

2. Find your Groove with a Routine that Works for You

I find that blogging is more effortless (it is never completely effortless) when I am in a ‘groove’ and have a bit of a rhythm in place. It helps me know what to do, when.

I set aside different times of the day for different activities. For example – for me mornings is for writing, afternoons is for editing and scheduling posts and evenings is for admin and social media.

In the early days, I would do the same but not on a daily basis because I was working part time jobs and studying. I would set aside days for different activities instead. Monday mornings would be writing time and I’d try to write a few posts to use during the week, most nights I would moderate comments and read other blogs.

3. Identify the Sticking Points

Usually, when you get ‘stuck’ and burn out it centres around a specific issue. It might be a lack of ideas, inability to get into the writing groove, lack of inspiration to interact with other bloggers… (the list can go on).

When you’re stuck, try to narrow down on the area that’s holding you back. I wrote about this recently in a post about the bloggers block I’ve had over the years. In each case the issue was different and by identifying the exact problem I was able to dedicate time to fixing it.

4. Taking Breaks

When it comes out to burning out I think the key is to not only work out how you’ll blog, developing rhythms and systems to help you do that, it is also important to work out how you’ll ‘rest’ and have a break from blogging.

In my early years I became quite obsessed with blogging – to the point where I was always thinking about it or doing it. Even when I was doing other activities I was still thinking about posts, how to grow traffic and how to monetize.

Build time off into your daily and weekly rhythms. Time off to have a normal life. This sounds like a no brainer but it really is so important.

For me – I don’t blog on the weekends until Sunday night. I also set aside regular times for vacations with the family during which I try not to blog. These offline and times of rest keep me going.

5. Socialize

One of the challenges many bloggers face is that we easily get distracted by social media. You get onto Twitter to share a post and connect with your readers and you see an interesting link… and then you see another… and then someone starts a funny hashtag… and before you know it you’ve spent 4 hours Tweeting funny things on the #ThingsIdSayToBillClinton.

Social media is full of distractions but it can be used for good to help you get inspired…. if you use it the right way.

I semi-regularly participate in hashtag chats that relate to my niches and almost always get ideas to write about from them.

For example, #BlogChat chat happens once a week and I often come away with a golden nugget of an idea that I go away and write about.

Similarly, I love webinars (both running them and participating in other people’s) because I often get a moment of clarity or inspiration that sparks a whole new direction for my blogs.

I also participate in a couple of good Facebook groups that are for bloggers in my niches and find that they often give me great ideas.

The other place I go for socialisation is conferences and meetups. It isn’t a super regular thing for me but definitely good to punctuate the year with some real life interactions with people who get you as a blogger.

The key is to find social interactions that are actually focused enough to add value to what you do – rather than distract you!

6. Charge Your Day with Inspirational Moments

Most days I like to pepper my day with inspiration bombs. Usually for me this takes the form of listening to a TED talk or reading one of my favourite blogs.

It doesn’t even matter if the topic of the inspiration has nothing at all to do with my blogs. I find that just putting myself in a place to be inspired or to see something that evokes some kind of emotional reaction is often enough to fire me up enough to go and do something worthwhile on my own blogs.

7. Do Something that Matters

Probably the number one thing I’ve found that keeps me fresh and inspired with my blogging is to blog about things that matter – to me and to others.

When you’re doing something that you have a genuine interest in and passion for, you’ll find that 99% of the time you can keep momentum going. I’ve had 30 or so blogs over the years and the two that I run today are on topics that I just really like and gain a lot of personal satisfaction from.

The other part of this point is to create something that matters to others. When you’re making other people’s lives better you’ll find that you get a lot of energy and inspiration. I know that while there have been tough times in building up ProBlogger over the last 9 years, the comments or emails from readers letting me know that something I’ve done has had a tangible impact upon them have helped me through those tough times.

So put your time into creating something real, something that makes your life and others lives better, and you’ll find that feeds you constant energy to help you through the tough times.