Tips for Supercharging Your Small Business

Since I can’t be the smart person ALL day long (it’s bad for my complexion), I like to let others step in and counsel us freelancers, solopreneurs and small business types. But I did get my licks in: below is an infographic (click to enlarge) that has a bounty of advice for small—but strong!—businesspeople on matters integral to small businesses, and I even get to throw in my penny’s worth too. The good folks at Invoice2go put this together, so give them a look.

Also, I know that you are desperate to fill your electronic stockings with electronic stocking stuffers, so I’ve reduced my Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See to $3.99 until January 15. Stuff those stockings with abandon (and ebooks).

Guest Posting? Wipe Your Feet at Your Host’s Door Before Entering

You're a Guest: Behave—But Be Interesting!

You’re a Guest: Behave—But Be Interesting!

Guest posting on well-trafficked sites can be an effective way for freelancers to drive awareness of their blog, their services or a product that the freelancer is hoping to give potential clients/customers a peek at. Many site owners are happy to host a relevant post from an outside writer because it can give the site’s writer a break from their posting routines, expand on topics that are still relevant to the site’s audience, but that might be out of the purview of the site owner, and can spark renewed engagement for the site.

Guest posters can also bring a portion of their existing audience to the host site, which also holds some appeal for the site owner. There are some obvious basics you need to pay attention to when you solicit a site owner for a guest post, prominent among them whether your post serves that site’s audience, whether it’s written in the site’s style, format and tone, and whether it expands or breaks new ground with the site’s mission and message.

Take a look at this Why You Suck at Guest Blogging (and What The Pros Do Differently) post on Jon Morrow’s helpful Boost Blog Traffic site. The post goes over what makes a lousy and what makes a lively guest post, and also supplies a link list, vetted by topic, of sites that accept guest posts, those links going to site guidelines. This BBT post is over a year old, so not all of the linked sites may still be accepting guest posts, but a good many of them will still be active. Morrow’s site has a rich vein of info on guest blogging, which ties in well to his guest blogging courses.

Wither Guest Posting?
And why, you slyly ask, am I blithering on about guest posting? Oh, with motives so ulterior: I recently published my book on finding and cultivating your writing voice, Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See. Before I published, I contacted the owners of a number of sites about posting some adapted material from my book as a guest post. Most of the site owners were people I have had favorable contact with in the past, which at least gets your post in the door in the first place.

Some of the hosts were from sites I’d tweeted about regularly, because they offered great material for freelancers, or were people I’d written to directly about topics in their post or newsletters, or were from sites where I’d commented regularly, and was known to the host. It’s always great to have some personal connection with the site host to be considered for a post, though of course you still need to provide them with good material, and to follow the guidelines.

I did sent pitches out to several sites I was moderately familiar with, but at which I hadn’t developed the personal relationship described above. Those pitches were reviewed and graciously declined, for various reasons. And some of my closer contacts declined as well, again for various reasons, all of them legitimate. And two of my posts won’t go live for a while, because of the host site’s guest backlog.

Posting for the Long Tail
All that is no problem for me: I want to keep incrementally putting out word about my book, and guest posting is a helpful method, especially when I was able to use (with occasional modification) the direct material of my book. Below is the list of posts that are now active at various sites. The list includes places like LinkedIn and Medium, where I posted under my own accounts; obviously they aren’t vetted by a site host, but you shouldn’t post there either if you material isn’t up to snuff.

Check any of these out if the feeling strikes. There’s useful writing info in all, and it’s even amusing at times. As you might have guessed, I got the most sales from the highly trafficked Writer’s Digest post (seen in my Kindle Direct reports the day of and day after the post), but also some fair attention from the others, and increased traffic to my site in general. The Make a Living Writing post just went live, so we’ll see what happens there.

Try some guest posting where you might find a receptive audience—it’s a good exercise to stretch your writing, and could get you useful attention.

Making Some Rounds on the Web

Writer’s Digest

Don’t Muzzle (or Muffle) Your Writing Voice

Make a Living Writing

Why Super-Short Articles Can Build a Big Writing Career

Writing World

Pedal Your Bike to Pedal Your Mind

Writer Unboxed

A Writer’s Eyes Are Always Open

Medium

Here’s to the Oddballs
When the Writing Grind Seems to Shave the Soul

LinkedIn

How to Write After Midnight
Stick in Your Readers’ Heads: Use Words That Work
Typing with Another Writer’s Hands

Mark Twain’s 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing

Tom's Twain Tattoo

Yeah it’s real, and it’s on my bicep. Lucky that cigar isn’t lit.

I’ve discovered the secret of good writing: write about a famous writer, and use his actual words to build all the basic layers—and the frosting—of the essay cake. I don’t even have to attempt to be lamely clever if I can steal the cleverness of others.

There’s a reason why this guy’s face is tattooed on my arm.

Thus, my post at Marketing Profs today: Mark Twain’s 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing.

Anatomy of a Failed Book Promotion

Top 100 Free Merged

Stand Aside, Literary Poseurs!

I suppose I can forgive Hugo and Dickens for being ahead of me, because they are dead, after all. But man, did I stick it to that Bronte gal! (And her sisters aren’t even here to defend her.) I’m referring to that bit of pictorial whimsy above, where I got to sit at the reading table (even if I had to use a high chair) with a pantheon of literary greats. The whimsy is that this is one of those deceptive snapshots in time, where if the photo is taken at just the right moment, a sedentary couch surfer might be seen to be leaping onto a moving stallion. In the case of my recent Amazon book promotion, my stallion never really left the stall.

The reason my novel, All Roads Are Circles, is seen rubbing shoulders with these writing elect is because of my recent promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) Select program. I won’t go into deep details about how the Select program works, but here is a pointed post from Jane Friedman (excellent comments too) about the premise behind the program. One of the questions that’s examined is that because of the proliferation of free books, is KDP of much use to authors today?

One of the basics of the program for your enrolled ebook is that you give Amazon exclusive rights to sell your book for 90 days, and in that time you can designate 5 days of free downloads for the book. One of the alleged spurs behind this largesse is that it circulates an author’s work to a wider audience, some percentage of which might be induced to write a positive review, and thus boost actual sales.

Promotion a Go-Go Goes No-Go

I took my first novel, published a couple of years ago, off of Smashwords and B&N to put it in Select. My hope in using the program wasn’t to later sell copies of that novel, but indeed to induce some positive reviews, in the hopes that might promote the sale of my newer, small-press published short story collection. People who have used the program successfully have noted that it’s often helpful in the selling of other works; you will see many authors sell a novel for .99 as a loss leader, while their other works are priced much higher.

I was quite successful in my recent promotion in NOT selling copies of the promoted novel (I’m apparently quite good at that), but not very successful in getting reviews, and not successful in getting new sales of the short story book. Broken down, my recent 5 days of free KDP promotion—which ended on April 24—garnered 3,288 downloads. I had registered it for free on a number of free ebook downloads sites, and on some Goodreads and Amazon free promo forums. You will see in current online discussions of KDP Select that Amazon is no longer giving these sites that advertise free downloads as much latitude and support as they had in the past.

That Stallion Really Was Lame

It’s been almost a month since the promo ended. In that time, there were 0 post-Select sales of the novel. There was probably one sale of the short story book, maybe two. I did get one review of the free novel: it’s titled “Lame,” and its one-star designation says nothing happens in the book except some x-rated language. Wow, I’m going to have to go back and read my own book. I’m almost sure something happens, but I didn’t realize there was so much shitty language.

Granted, literary fiction isn’t a big seller (particularly short-story books), and Oprah and I never dated, so I don’t have that cachet, but them results is slim pickin’s. Other writers report much different results. Author Joe Konrath, who writes extensively about traditional publishing and all the variants of self-publishing, spells out his own profitable experiences with KDP Select; he has an extensive publishing history, which served him well in his promotion.

However, if anyone does need advice on how not to sell books, I am apparently an expert. I’m not sure how well that Dickens guy did on his actual sales after his promo, but as you know, he has a lot of ghosts working for him on his behalf. I’m thinking of engaging the Ghost of Christmas Future to work on my next book promo …

Not Clint Eastwood’s Chair (But Needs Filling)

My moviemaking skills are crude indeed, but sometimes it’s a stimulating creative change to move your mediums around. I’d seen on Derek Halpern’s blog that he was soliciting videos from his audience on the subject of their business needs. Derek’s focus has some overlap with Dan Pink’s and perhaps Dan Areily’s work in motivation and behavior. But Derek’s work—combining research in motivational psychology directed toward growing an online audience and growing sales of your products—is interesting on its own. And his half-manic personality probably helps win converts to his causes.

Derek’s video contest guidelines were to reveal in 60 seconds what the creator might hope to gain from his expertise. He’s going to choose a few winners to join him at a two-day workshop in Seattle (with CreativeLIVE) using tools to expand online business. I thought the metaphor of the empty chair was a good one to suggest that I wanted to use an improved online presence to drive more clients, and seeking counsel on how that presence could be shaped to a more focused audience.

I doubt if my purple plea will notch me a win, but I had jolly fun in quickly putting together the idea and the video. The satisfying part is to play—here in working with video and voice—somewhat far afield of my normal comforts. I want to push those kind of far-field buttons (though with more deliberation than my effort here) in the future, and see if I can trigger any high-voltage sparks.

All the News That’s Fit to Squint At

I have an ongoing battle with myself (damn, every time I get on top, I’m on the bottom too) about reading and listening to the daily news. It can be such a litany of woe and strife: so many deaths, so many injustices that I become inured to the actual screaming pain of it and instead numbly click on to the next article. The drive to drink more news swill is partially due to me wanting to be a journalist for so many years, and for thinking that if I stay current with global currents, I’ll know what’s happening.

But often, what’s happening is just as real under the radar, on the other side of the insistent NOW. Life works its odd ways in the road-not-taken nooks and crannies of not-news and not-hot-news. So, while I continue to battle with whether I’ll lap up the blood-soaked headlines of today, I also subscribe to a number of email newsletters, some of them writing-related, some not, that take a different perspective on what’s interesting and important. (Note: do not point out that reading yet more digests of information doesn’t really address the prescription that it might be time to wean oneself off the news entirely. Bah! Resolutions are for New Year’s.)

So, some offbeat compendiums of not-quite-news:

Next Draft
A daily digest of the provocative, the crazed and the head-scratching (and sometimes it does include top-of-the-news stories, though often from a different angle). The guy behind this, Dave Pell, usually has some wry or deadpan take on the articles he lists, before you click through to the madness.

Brain Pickings
Often centering around writers and literature, this is a weekly digest of the old, the new and the odd. Let them explain: “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”

Work in Progress
A weekly (though not always) newsletter from the Farrar, Strauss Giroux publishing company, it will often have oddments from the byways of literature and literary types, sometimes with snippets from interviews of famed authors long dead, or snipings from unruly authors quite alive. Some promo of their own publications here, but not obnoxious.

Shelf Awareness
And if you want to find out which of your favorite bookstores are closing this week, this newsletter’s for you. Well, that’s not all they do—from their About: Shelf Awareness publishes two newsletters, one for general readers and one for people in the book business.
Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers, our new newsletter, appears Tuesdays and Fridays and helps readers discover the 25 best books of the week, as chosen by our industry experts. We also have news about books and authors, author interviews and more.
Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade, which we’ve been publishing since June 2005, provides booksellers and librarians the information they need to sell and lend books. It appears every business day and is read by people throughout the book industry.

Writing on the Ether
And if you need to read about which publishing industry maven is trashing Amazon today (but it’s funny, really), you can do no better than to go to Jane Friedman’s fine blog and read the Thursday edition of Writing on the Ether. There’s more than just Amazon trashing going on, with all the publishing industry in a constant froth about pretty much everything. Porter Anderson surveys and curates sharp commentary from every whichaway.

Extry, Extry, Man and Dog Both Bite Reporter

And a bit of my own news: Men With Pens put up a post of mine about “Why I Write.” Go there and tell me why you write as well. Or why not.

And I was a finalist in the Gotham Writer’s Workshop 50-word monologue contest, which solicited 50-word monologues on growing up in the suburban 60s. Guilty. I won two tickets to a Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which I would dearly love to attend, but it being on the Right Coast, I can’t. I’ll be finding some backbiting, caustic, alcoholic NY friends of mine to give them to instead.

The Rhythm Method (Or, Why Self-Employment is Better Than, Um, Chocolate)

Today’s guest post is from the bubbling cauldron of Joel D Canfield’s mind, and he provides us with an unbridled rant—er, measured assessment—of the painful yoke of conventional employment vs the fresh, cool air of entrepreneurship’s open road. Joel is the author of many books, including a new one on this very topic, as you’ll see when you round the corner on this post. He is also a pal, a fellow who makes fine pancakes and a general smarty-pants.

I’ve never been good with schedules.

I eat whenever I’m hungry. (In Mexico they tell the joke about the gringo who has to look at his watch to see if he’s hungry.)

I sleep when I’m tired. (I went through a phase where I worked 3 hours and then napped, ’round the clock. Longest sleep period was the 3 hours from 2am to 5am.)

I work when it makes sense.

And that requires far more than a parenthetical phrase.

Jobs are Unnatural

I’ve had jobs. Not only was I miserable, I wasn’t good company for those around me, at home or at work. Not that I didn’t deliver. I take my work seriously and do it right.

But when you need a 90-minute nap at 10:30am, most employers get miffed. When you nibble constantly all day, whenever you’re hungry, the HR department wonders why you won’t take your lunch break. And asking to leave an hour early because you didn’t take it is about as simple as negotiating peace in the Middle East.

No, my biology tells me I’m not cut out to be an employee.

Neither are you.

Maybe your biology is suited to the rhythms of employment.

Your psychology isn’t.

Psychology Says No to Jobs

Over and over again, psychologists of every stripe tell us that happiness is more important than money (and, by they way, totally unrelated to money, once you’re above the poverty line.)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is noted for his work in the study of happiness and creativity. He is best known as the architect of the concept of flow, the altered state of consciousness we sometimes find ourselves in when totally engaged with a challenging task.

Csikszentmihalyi on why it matters what we do for a living, and whose job it is:

“Because for most of us a job is such a central part of life, it is essential that this activity be as enjoyable and rewarding as possible. Yet many people feel that as long as they get decent pay and some security, it does not matter how boring or alienating their job is. Such an attitude, however, amounts to throwing away almost 40 percent of one’s waking life. And since no one else is going to take the trouble of making sure that we enjoy our work, it makes sense for each of us to take on this responsibility.” — Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p. 101-2.

Dredge up Maslow’s Hierarchy from the muck at the back of your mind. Certainly, sleeping indoors and eating occasionally are needs which must be filled.

Frederic Herzberg’s Motivation/Hygiene Theory points out that at some point, Maslow’s levels flip from removing dissatisfaction to adding satisfaction. It’s important to note that they’re not on the same continuum. The things which remove pain, eliminate dissatisfaction, can’t just be increased to create satisfaction, a joyful life.

Herzberg, Maslow, and Csikszentmihalyi, among others, point out that we need purpose, we need autonomy, we need something grander than a full belly and a dry bed to sleep in if we’re going to be happy.

The Pursuit Of

I discovered long ago that writing juices my synapses. Occasionally, whether it’s a song, a business book, or more often of late, a mystery, when I string together the right handful of words, it makes even my short hairs tingle.

You have a gift. Somewhere inside you is that thing you do that brings you joy, every single time. That thing others identify with you. That thing that you’d pay to do, if you had to.

If only you could make a living doing that.

Maybe you can.

Dreamtime is a Big Place

Remember all the jokes about hoping our kids could get jobs playing video games, since that’s the only skill they had?

Guess what. It’s happened.

Of course, it’s not the breezy glamourous gig they were all hoping for, but it exists.

Did you ever imagine anyone would pay to have their shopping done? How about a private chef?

It’s not just the wealthy who pay for these services. Folks who are just plain busy at their full-time-plus-overtime job pay to have all the tasks done they just don’t have time for.

Maybe shopping or cooking or beating the Leaping Hammer Brothers level isn’t your thing.

You know what is. Stop, right now, and think about what you’d be doing right now if you weren’t at work, reading blogs to avoid working.

Parallels

Get creative. Stretch it out. Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. (Remember pet rocks?)

Don’t quit your day job yet, if you don’t have to. Read Seth Godin’s Bootstrapper’s Bible for practical guidance on launching your rocket without spending much (or any) money.

Find something parallel to your joy. I love writing fiction. Non-fiction sells better.

Mark McGuinness is a poet. He makes his living, though, teaching business savvy to artists.

You Will Leap, Or You Will Be Pushed

Here’s my concern: that you’ll think you can wait. That your job is secure.

The age of the job is over. Like a dinosaur, the heart has stopped beating and the head just doesn’t know it yet.

We’re all hanging over a precipice.

Would you rather be hanging from someone else’s hand, or hanging on tight with your own?

About the Author


He may have taken a knock to the noggin in his leap off the hedonic treadmill, but Joel D Canfield still manages to string sentences together most days. Though he pays the bills as a web developer (self-employed, of course) he’s managed to write and self-publish his 10th book, released this month. Its cheeky title is You Don’t Want a Job and he believes every word of it.

2012 Guide to Literary Agents Giveaway

Guide to Literary Agents

Ooh, free stuff. Better yet, good free stuff! That good stuff is the 2012 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which has comprehensive contact listings of agents and agencies, tells you what they are looking for in regards novels and nonfiction books, and supplies submission tips and writerly suggestions. And one of you glittery souls who merely puts in a comment here will be shipped a free copy of the guide. (Gotta be a U.S. address—sorry!)

Besides all the agency listings, the book has lots of articles on what makes agents happy with your submissions, and what makes them cranky. There’s also a section on writing conferences and screenwriting. This is the book for you even if you can’t decide if your novel is YA or DOA. The guide also includes an updated online subscription to agent listings.

Shameless Plug
What will undoubtedly thrill you down to your very tippy-toesies is knowing that there’s an article of mine in the book. It’s somewhat of a how-to on setting up (and getting something out of) a personal writer’s retreat. That’s a freebie too.

Even if you don’t have a manuscript or book proposal ready for an agent, you might want to swim in the comment stream just to get stimulated. I’ll take all your names and select one at random. I’ll cut off the contest a week from today, and I’ll let the winner know by email.

And to my pals who drop by and comment on a regular basis, no, I’m not going to cheat and choose one of you just because you’re pretty. Grow up. This is legit. (But you still have a chance in the random drawing. And you’re still pretty.)

How NOT to Write an Obituary for Fun and Profit

Like a lot of self-obsessed pundits (whoops, I mean astute marketers), I use Google Analytics to check my site’s traffic statistics, such as what search engines invite people to visit, which referral sites point an arrow to mine, and what flavor of link bait might entice Lady Gaga to go gaga over my prose. (Note to Lady G: I’ve named all my strings after you.)

One of the analytic tools displays what search keywords people use to find my site. Writers and other types of peddlers have been scolded by marketeers of every stripe that we must discover and cultivate our audience, whether we want to sell words or wombats. The keyword tool does reveal what’s on the minds of site visitors, and thus is one gauge of what people are looking for when they come to a site. Apparently my people want to learn how to write obituaries.

Running from Your Audience
The greatest number of people, by far, who visited my site—as a result of organic search (not direct visits)—over the past nine months were looking for advice on writing an obituary for a family member. The reason: my father, Sgt. Robert Bentley, died on New Years Day of this year. My sister and I collaborated on writing his obituary, and I wrote a “How to” post on that strange, sad process.

I was struck at several levels by that search-tally information: one, on an emotional key, thinking of the anonymous (to me) people who have had death enter their lives, some probably suddenly, and the weight of that loss. Thinking anew of the loss of my father. Thinking that so many issues around a family member’s death are boggling, and how we seek help for those issues—such as help with writing an obituary for our loved one. And thinking that I clearly didn’t want to go into the obituary-writing business, no matter if that’s where my audience is.

Capturing the Elements of a Life
This is an age of specialists; undoubtedly, there are writers who focus on writing obituaries, though I didn’t want to search for them—probably afraid I’d see my own site come up, and add to my totals. I don’t want to consider the commercial aspects of the trade, but I could see some appeal in helping people through the process, because the obituary’s tale is part of the grieving, the letting go—obit content, narrow as it is, can sometimes atomize the elements of a life, the cherished aspects of character, the seat of a family’s love for the lost. But I don’t want to write them; that is too close, too sad.

Ironically, this post will undoubtedly bring more souls to my site looking for a way to write about things that are in some way unwriteable. The words of broken hearts. Maybe my original “How To” did help. I hope so.

At least it’s better than the searches for “long scrotum” and its variants that brought many people to my site a while back after I’d posted an article about my vasectomy. Sigh…

Why You Should Write Like Katharine Hepburn Skateboards

Kate Hepburn Skateboarding

I love this photo of Kate Hepburn. Even though her both-feet-athwart stance seems to presage a butt-tumble to come, the fact that she’s cranking the angle shows she’s not just rolling a flat-foot-dead-ahead-I’m-terrified skate, but she’s going for it. Maybe it’s the only time Kate skated, maybe it’s just a publicity photo, but implicit in it is the kind of attitude confirmed by Hepburn’s bio: a brash kind of what-the-hell brio that was disarming and refreshing.

That’s what I think writers should do: push the angle a little, crank off some language that’s bolder or brighter, be willing to take a bone bruise to your writer’s elbows. I like to imagine Kate grinding on a curb in the Safeway parking lot, the security guard saying, “Hey lady, give it a rest!” From reading of her history, she rarely gave it a rest: she was opinionated, strong-willed and emotional, and it came out in her acting and her personal life. Whether you write for business, pleasure or both, writing doesn’t have any flavor unless you add some cayenne now and then.

The Long Hangover from a Word-Bender
When I was ten or eleven, I became slap-happy with words. I’d read the dictionary in chunks of pages, getting into the brief etymologies, mouthing the pronunciations. I remember running down to my best friend’s house, having memorized a line about a nice, old Volkswagen bus his highly educated parents had bought, so that I could spring on them something like “Congratulations on purchasing a well-restored vintage mode of transportation,” or some such gobbledygook. My friend’s dad just looked at me and laughed, though in a kindly way.

Despite regularly getting those kind of skeptical responses, I continued being a word-dweeb for years. The editor of my college paper was a guy who liked me and my writing, but one who accurately judged that my polysyllables-per-sentence count was choking many readers. He once titled an article of mine about an unconventional housing design near the college, “A Lot of Big Words About Housing.”

I’ve calmed down some from those days. I’m no longer so insecure about my writing that I have to forcibly lard it with fifty-cent words to make it seem worth something. But I’m still thrilled by language, still rifling through the dictionary, still wanting to goose a sentence with word-grease that makes it jump. So, take some chances with your writing: think of Kate Hepburn shredding in a half-pipe, no knee pads.

Bonus Celebrity “No Way!” Sighting
Agatha Christie was a surfer. I knew that Mark Twain did it in Hawaii (look for his tales of “surf bathing” in the Sandwich Islands), but Dame Agatha? Yes! I am hoping that one of you can find out whether Yogi Berra was a knitter.