Say No To Accusatory Marketing

I just logged into my in box and there was an email in there with the headline, “Why aren’t you watching?” I assume if I were to actually click on the email it would have suggested a specific show that I absolutely must watch right now lest I be considered uncool or out of touch.

But I am very happily binge-watching Cold Case and Without a Trace right now, thank you very much, and do not need someone coming at me with accusations about what I should be watching instead.

A while back I received a snarky little email from someone trying to sell me on paying them to run my AMS ads. It named one of my books and pointed out that the book (which was not the first book in the series and had been out for three years) was just outside of the top 100 listing for its category, and then said something about wouldn’t I like to pay someone who could get me an ACoS under X%? The implication of course being that I was failing miserably at doing so myself.

I don’t remember who sent it because I was like, “wow, yeah, fuck you,” and immediately blocked them.

The problem is, that kind of thing works on a lot of people. There are advertisers out there who will make you feel bad about yourself to get your money.

They will imply you are a failure. They will play to your insecurities. They will make you question yourself or your choices. They will make you feel like you’re not “in” if you aren’t paying for whatever they’re selling.

Don’t let them do that to you. Look for brands that are trying to help, that want to share their joy. That want to lift you up. Buy because someone is offering you a positive experience not because they made you feel like shit.

And if someone does make you feel horrible and less than and you really do feel like you need to buy something to fix it, go to their competitor and buy from them instead. Because the sad fact of this world is that if something works, even if it’s negative and destructive, people will keep doing it. So don’t reward that type of approach. Please.

Even More Random Thoughts

First off, it’s Thanskgiving here in the United States. Canada had theirs last month I think it was and I’m not really sure about the rest of the world. But I think it’s good to have a day where you stop and take stock of the things that are going well and that you acknowledge what you do have as opposed to what you want.

Far too often we get fixated on what we don’t have. Or what we’d like to have. Or what we’re striving for.

And Goals are good, don’t get me wrong. I am all for forward progress.

But it’s easy to miss what’s there already. The family, the friends, the pets, the home, the hobbies, the job that isn’t your forever job but that you actually like, the peace, the money in your bank account. Any of which could be gone tomorrow.

So take a moment, even if you’re not American, and count up your blessings.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about a few concepts.

One is the idea of incremental improvement versus exponential improvement. The last few years I’ve seen a steady 15% increase in profit each year. But a few years back I had a 700% increase in profit year-over-year and going even further back I had a 2200% increase in profit one year.

Why the difference? Why did I see such a big jump in certain years, but not in others.

Simple. In those big years I made a drastic shift. Both involved writing something completely new.

Ironically, the 2200% increase was one I didn’t stick with. It wasn’t for me long-term so I didn’t build on it.

But I kept writing and trying new things and then had the 700% increase year.

(Quick comment here: Not everything new that you try will do that. You have to not only try something new, but have it “hit” to some degree compared to where you were.)

Now here’s the trick, though.

I think one the hardest business choices to make is to be at a point where you’re making that steady 15% more profit per year on something that’s “good” but you’re not where you want to be.

Taking that leap into the new and unknown to see if you can find the 700% market instead is not an easy decision to make. Because you often have to sacrifice the “good” path to get to the “great” path.

Earlier this year there was a Wharton talk I listened to. Can’t remember if I mentioned it already. But it included the guy who started SkinnyPop. And one of the things he mentioned is that he didn’t start with SkinnyPop.

He started with a gourmet popcorn idea that was profitable but not at the level he wanted. So he and his business partner took the risk of working on a new line of healthy popcorn. When that new product started to show promise they sold off the old business even though it was doing fine.

That old business is still viable, but it wasn’t a $320 million business, which is what the founders were able to sell SkinnyPop for.

So when do you set aside the viable business for the shot at the superstar business? Do you make the leap? Maybe that leap is jumping right off a cliff? Maybe a little patience would’ve transformed the original idea into something that was enough.

Because note that the guy isn’t running that business anymore. If what he really wanted was a storefront where he interacted with happy customers every day, that man actually didn’t succeed.

Which is sort of a secondary thought to the whole incremental vs. exponential growth question.

And leads me into my final area of thought these days.

Because at the same time I’ve been thinking about revenue and profitability and all of that jazz, my mind has also been on a completely track. (My mind often operates on about four levels at once but usually one whole level is music, because I’m weird. Anyway.)

A while back I read The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson and it felt like that next step past CliftonStrengths for me. (That’s an affiliate link to Amazon by the way, but you can find it on all major retailers.)

For those of you familiar with Strengths, I know I will always be a Strategic-Achiever-Learner-Relator.

Put me in any context and that is who I am at my core. I am that person who will quickly learn what it takes to survive and then set about doing so while only bringing a limited number of people into my inner circle.

I don’t have to win, I’m not high Competition, but I do have to survive. (It’s part of the reason I have to be careful what environments I put myself in.)

I accept that wisdom I gained from Strengths. But it seemed to me there should be more to the story.

Because who I was at twenty-five and what I valued is not who I am at forty-five and what I value.

I have even found myself at times feeling very uncomfortable in conversations with friends who are currently where I have been.

For example, I met a friend for a meal a while back who was in a power struggle at work. And I knew that five years ago I would’ve reacted the exact same way they were to their current situation. But by the time we met the idea of spending that much mental energy on a work conflict repelled me. Like, what a waste of the limited time we have on this earth to be fighting over widgets.

But applying what I’d read from the Pearson book I could see that my friend was in a Warrior phase of their life. A phase they needed to go through. This was someone who needed to learn to stand up for themselves. So they were right where they needed to be.

I just wasn’t there any longer.

The Pearson book gave me an insight into the different psychological stages that we might all go through.

Now, keep in mind this worked for me. And I am not going to get into some lengthy debate with anyone about Jung and how accurate his work is or whether it can be scientifically proven, because at the end of the day something like this boils down to “Does it help you move forward in your life? Does it give you insights that let you better communicate or thrive?”

For me it does. For others it may not.

The book also gave me insight into why certain genres might appeal to certain readers. Many readers like stories around the Innocent archetype. They want to read about being rescued and taken away.

So that book was helpful to me both in terms of which stories I should be trying to write and in terms of understanding the personal conflicts in my own life. I’ve recently been reading Awakening the Heroes Within and it reinforced for me the concepts from the first book.

(Now I will say that at online they seem to have changed their test and I don’t resonate with the results of the new one and probably wouldn’t recommend it. But the books have an assessment in them that still works for me.)

Where to from here with all those thoughts percolating?

One idea is to make sure that the next fantasy I write incorporates characters that include each archetype. (In this recent book she makes repeated references to the Arthurian legend as an example of a story that incorporates many of the archetypes.)

Another is to lean into where I am on my own personal journey right now and choose the story idea I have that is most in line with the archetypes currently active in my own life.

If I look at the incremental versus exponential idea, then another option is to write something completely new. (I have a domestic thriller idea that’s been percolating for example.)

But I think I’m also coming to a really hard realization. One I may not be able to achieve fully.

And that’s that so much of what I valued in my early career has no meaning to me now. And if it has no meaning to me then I need to fully let it go, which is scary because it would mean fully letting go of fallback financial security.

Right now I’m pretty sure I could go back to consulting or corporate work and even if I took a position a few steps back from where I left I think I could excel at it again. I think I know at least three people who would help me get back in the door.

But knowing that is keeping me from fully stepping onto the path to wherever I go next. I am coming to the realization that moving forward from here requires me to fully let that possibility go.

Which is scary. Because that path represents wealth and financial security. And it also contains people who will not understand where I go next and who I may not understand anymore either.

Now, I should be clear here that this isn’t about “choosing to be a writer”. Because I know many authors who do exceedingly well financially with their writing.

And they have a level of reputation and clout that fits in very well with the path I want to step away from.

This is more me talking about writing something that’s so different and challenging and may not even work that it’s very likely ten other people will get it. And finding joy in that because it lets me explore the themes that matter to me. It’s about finally acknowledging to myself that other than books and a secure home and vehicle that possessions really do nothing at all for me. And about accepting that that may put me in a place that others can’t follow because they don’t get it.

I don’t know. I don’t know if I can make that leap. Or if I need to take that step to then come back into a more material life under the Ruler archetype with the knowledge that success for me won’t be about the money or being put on a pedestal, but on the ability to spread my truth far enough for it to have an impact.

Which sounds incredibly arrogant and pompous and all of that fun stuff, but that’s part of the whole journey discussed in those books. Setting aside those outer judgements so you can do what you need to do to move forward in your life.

ANYWAY. Count your blessings today. And if you think you have no blessings, remember you are still alive and there’s still another day for things to get better.

(And if it turns out they get worse but you didn’t count the blessings you had, well then clearly you were being an ass who refused to acknowledge what you had and you should try again.)

More Random Writerly Thoughts

This morning I was curious and tried to look up an author’s books. And I’m pretty sure they’re only listed on Smashword and publish print through Lulu. Which, ouch.

I understand that not all authors worry about making money from what they do, but that’s an interesting set of choices to make to be found by readers. I had tried looking them up on Amazon before I clicked their links on their website, because I’m weird that way, but there was nothing for me to find. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that.

Then again I have another author I know who is very serious about doing well at this and they published non-fiction but only in ebook and only on Amazon. Which means all those Fortune write-ups are mostly wasted. If you’re going to pursue more traditional media coverage, then being available on all major platforms and in all formats is kind of key.

I also know an author who has done incredibly well with a few series for a short period of time on each one through KU who can’t be bothered with print. More understandable there because fiction readers that read self-published books do lean more towards ebook, but that author is still leaving money on the table every time their books are on the top 100 list.

I know we all have different goals in what we’re doing and different bandwidth and energy for doing all the various aspects of this writing gig. Still. I think sometimes it’s “can’t be bothered” but sometimes it’s “I was given really bad advice.”

Like the author I met with a while back who was going to use IngramSpark for ebook distribution. (Plenty of discussion on why that’s a bad idea in the Wide for the Win Facebook group.)

So, yeah, interesting choices. Of course, I’m sure someone looks at mine and thinks the same. I am not immune to bad choices.

Also a few AMS comments for the day.

Years ago I opened I think it was an Advantage account in the UK. I’d actually transitioned from using it for the most part in the last year or so because the account I can access through my KDP account is just fine. Which is good.

Because when I was looking at ad spend this month I noticed that for that account they tacked on 20% tax. Must’ve been because I never fully completed setting the account up back then, which was the trick to get access to AMS in the UK without having to pay the fee for that type of account.

I am not seeing that same 20% charge on my KDP UK AMS account.

I have to say that tax must really disadvantage authors who are getting charged that amount. 20% is a lot. I still make $2 when I spend $1 on AMS so I could keep going, but if someone were operating closer to the edge, that would push them right over into unprofitability. And if all they’re doing is paying attention to their dashboard numbers they won’t even see that.

For the record, I track AMS ad spend in a spreadsheet and not only do I add in any extra fees or taxes like that I also add in 3% for a credit card fee for all of my foreign AMS ad spend because that’s what my credit card charges for foreign transactions. If you’re not factoring in those extra costs, you could be losing money and not realizing it.

Also, I just have to roll my eyes at the scammers in one of my niches. I at some point mentioned that X keyword was one of my best keywords and now I get to watch that particular keyword be hit by fake clicks on a regular basis. It looks awful day of but then Amazon seems to back it out a few days later.

Some days I turn of that keyword and its iterations and let them have their way and some days I’m luck “fuck it” and just let it ride because I know in a few days it’ll sort itself out. But it would be nice if we operated in an environment where that kind of crap didn’t happen and it was just about the books and the readers.

But it’s a lesson, too, that you can’t expect the same strategy to work long-term. New players, new opportunities, new developments. It’s 3-D chess played against ten thousand opponents.

Which reminds me of the guy who posted in one of my FB groups some thing about how writers don’t have gold medals to compete for and so it’s all just one big love fest. And I was like, uh, Hugos? Nebulas? Booker Prize? Pulitzer? And what about Amazon rankings? Last I checked, only a hundred spots available on each list.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The writers who form good peer groups absolutely help each other succeed. I can point to numerous examples of that happening. A good group forms and they all find long-term success. And the social support is pivotal for some to keep them going.

(Although I think sometimes that social support is a bit like what I saw with skydiving where you end up with a peer group because you all do Y together and then it’s really hard to walk away from Y even though you should because it also means losing your entire support network, too.)

So, yes, there’s absolutely value in having friends and not trying to compete with your fellow authors or be jealous of their success.

But, at the same time…Don’t be fooled into thinking there is no competition or that visibility isn’t impacted by who else is out there. When you search for X type of book, only one book can be listed first. And people only have so much downtime to spend on reading. If they’re getting their needs met elsewhere (which may not be happening, given my recent run of bleh books I’ve read), they aren’t going to find you.

I personally have no interest in “Being #1”. I could go my whole life without winning a literary award and be perfectly content. And I’m happy to let someone else get the suicide and death threats for not writing their series fast enough or in the right way.

I just want to hang out with my dog, keep a roof over our heads, and do something that engages my mind without destroying my spirit. But I also know that to hit that #2 part of my goal I have to contend with the fact that this is in fact a competitive industry and there are “winners” and “losers” no matter what someone’s goal is.

Anyway. Back to it.

NaNoWriMo: Writing Progress Doesn’t Have To Be Linear

I decided that I would do NaNoWriMo this year. I managed to write fourteen novels without it, but I was kind of stuck in a non-fiction rut and wanted to break out of it and write the next cozy. Those all come in around 42K so a new one seemed like the perfect project to target for the month.

(So far all I’ve seen from officially signing up for NaNo is requests to buy things or donate money, so it’s a good thing I did it more for the mental reminder than anything else.)

I thought I’d share my progress for the first four days just to show that you don’t have to hit the exact same word count goal every day to stay on track with something like this.

I had an early draft that I’d started probably this time last year that had about 10K words in it already, but it needed a new pass because the story had evolved in my head in the interim and I knew there wasn’t the right balance between the mystery part and the personal life part.

(At this point the cozies are 60% actual mystery and 40% hanging out with a cute dog and all of the main character’s friends and family and seeing how everyone’s lives are going to change this time around. I figure if readers stuck with me for the first seven books they’re on board with that.)


Day 1: Added 2,308 new words and ended up with about 5,200 words that were reviewed and ready to be part of the new draft. Time spent: 2.5 hours

Day 2: Added 774 new words and ended up with about 7,500 words. Time spent: 50 minutes

Day 3: Added only 60 words but cycled back through the first 7 chapters for a light edit. Time spent: 1 hr 20 minutes

Day 4: Added 2,459 words and ended up with about 11,000 words total. Time spent: 1 hr 45 minutes

I’m averaging about 1,400 new words a day but you can see how chunky it is.

This is pretty standard for my writing process. I have days like yesterday where lots of new words are added all at once and I have days like Wednesday where it’s almost entirely an editing pass to smooth things out.

Also keep in mind that adding 60 words may involve deleting 120 and adding 180. I just track my net difference each day.

So there you have it. For anyone who is new to writing and questioning your progress and worried that you have to average X words per day or it somehow doesn’t count, don’t. The key is making forward progress. Sometimes that involves playing solitaire or walking the dog while you think about the story, sometimes it involves feverishly drafting new words, and sometimes it involves going back through what you have and tightening it up a bit so you can move forward.

It’s all writing.

Excel Video Courses Available

After I published the Affinity Publisher video courses to Teachable, I decided I might as well add the Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, and Easy Excel Essentials video courses there as well.

These were courses that I originally published on Udemy in 2018, but I didn’t do much with them and eventually Udemy asked for tax information but in such a way that I couldn’t figure out how to give them an EIN for a sole proprietor so I just unpublished them rather than deal with it.

Me being me, once I put those courses up on Teachable I realized that I should also complete the circle and put together a video course on Excel formulas and functions to correspond to 50 Useful Excel Functions and 50 More Excel Functions, so there is now also a video course available on Teachable that covers the content of those two books, Excel Formulas and Functions.

(It’s a long one and if I never have to talk about another Excel formula or function again I will be a very happy person. Of course, I say that but then I’ll get all excited about some new formula or function and want to do so anyway.)

I’ll probably put more content up later but I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo this year, so those are the only ones for now. But for anyone looking to learn Excel who learns better by seeing, you do now have those courses available as an option.

Use code MLH50 to get 50% off on most of the courses. (Not on the individual Easy Excel titles like Formatting, IF Functions, etc. because those are priced cheap already, but it should work on the longer courses.)