What a Beef Stroganoff Recipe Teaches About Bad Blogger Outreach

One of the problems with having a blog about content marketing is that people want to constantly post guest articles on my website. And just like the spam connections I get on LinkedIn, these all follow a certain formula.

Dear NAME,

I enjoyed reading your blog post at URL, and thought you might be interested in an article about TOPIC.

We just wrote an article about SIMILAR TOPIC and thought you might want to post it on your blog.

And don’t forget to include the backlink that will boost our skeezy client’s Google search ranking and possibly help affiliate sales. [I’m paraphrasing that last part a bit. — Erik]

And no, I’m not exaggerating. I get two or three of these messages per month. They all follow the same formula, they all want to publish something that is sort of tangentially related to what I write about (content marketing and writing), and they all praise an article they never actually read.

But I got an email last week that may qualify as Worst Email Ever. I could tell that not only was the entire process automated, the author hadn’t actually read any of the information he purports to have read. This is what I got.

Dear Editor, [My name is literally all over my website. —Erik]

My name is [J—] and I’m the Editor at [Unnamed Website]. I was doing research on beef stroganoff recipes and just finished reading your wonderful blog post: https://problogservice.com/tag/content-marketing/

In that article, I noticed that you cited a solid post that I’ve read in the past: http://beefandboards.com/

We just published a delicious beef stroganoff recipe complete with step-by-step pictures and detailed instructions. You can find it here:  [URL that I will not dignify with a backlink]

If you like the recipe we’d be humbled if you cited us in your article. Of course, we will also share your article with our 50k newsletter subscribers and followers across our social platforms.

A plate of beef stroganoff. I looked and looked at it, but it teaches me nothing about blogger outreach.

Besides, my mom made the best beef stroganoff!

Four issues told me that J— hadn’t read anything.

  1. The “article” he supposedly read is a Tags link on my blog. You can click a tag on any blog and read all the articles that have been tagged with that keyword. So it’s not an article, it’s a whole list of articles. He would know that if he had even briefly skimmed that page.
  2. The “solid post” he’s read in the past? It’s a URL for Beef & Boards Dinner Theater. Beef & Boards used to be a national chain of dinner theaters that closed down. The only one left is in Indianapolis, Indiana. The URL is to an entire website, not a single blog post.
  3. The article he wanted me to link to was about how to make beef stroganoff. And why? Because I wrote an article about a place called Beef & Boards. Again, if he had read my blog, he would see there are no recipes; if he had read the actual article I wrote, he would have seen there’s no mention of food.
  4. This was the first and only article I ever wrote on this blog where I mentioned Beef & Boards, and it was based on an interview I did with an actor in a show at that theater. I was a travel writer for several years, and I wrote about Beef & Boards shows on other blogs, but I never did a theater review on my work blog. J— would have known that if he had read other articles; he clearly didn’t.

So I wrote back to J— and said that while I was not interested in publishing a beef stroganoff recipe on a blog about writing and content marketing, I would make sure his request appeared on my blog rather soon.

And now it has.

A Plea to All PR Flacks and Content Marketers

To those of you doing blogger outreach, please please PLEASE write individual letters to your contacts, not form email.

Don’t find a way to automate this so you can do more faster. This is not something where you want to pump out hundreds and thousands of emails every week. If you’re only going to get a 1% success rate, the trick is not to send out more spam, it’s to give your efforts a more personalized touch. Reduce the number of people you contact, and don’t waste the energy and effort on contacting people who aren’t a good fit for what you do.

Look, you already have a job where you sit down all day and the only things you move are your fingers. Don’t find a way to be more lazy about it.

Instead, just try these simple steps:

  • If you say you read an article, make sure you actually read it. Quote something from it. And not just the opening sentence. Talk about why that article is important to you.
  • If you’re going to send any links, copy and paste them into your browser and then test them. Make sure you grabbed the right link, and that it actually works.
  • Tell the other person why you think your article would make a good fit on their blog. It shows that you read more than one, which means you’re actually interested in them. They’re more likely to accept your request that way.

Blogger outreach is tough because you’re writing to people who aren’t likely to write you back. But that doesn’t mean you should take shortcuts or automate the process to make it easier. I’d be willing to wager that you’d get a better response if you wrote 10 individual emails per day than sent out 100 automated messages.

Photo credit: JeffreyW (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Stop Selling to Me on LinkedIn

Are you married? When you first met, did you walk up to your prospective spouse and just pop the question?

Or are you in a long-term relationship? How did you start it? Did you say, “How would you like to form a long-term relationship? My strengths are that I have good manners, love my mother, and am kind to dogs?” And then did you follow that up with a list of past significant others who can vouch for your good character?

Of course not! That’s clearly no way to enter into any kind of relationship.

But when people connect with me on LinkedIn, it turns me off when the very first thing they do is ask if I need their web services, followed by a 500 word explanation of everything they can do, the companies and projects they’ve worked on, and a request to hop on the phone for a 15 – 30 minute conversation about what they just sent me.

(Not to mention that every message looks nearly identical. They’re either all copy-pasting each other’s sales pitch, or it’s just one company creating thousands of profiles with the same message.)

Oh, I know, I know. Some of you are saying: “Hey, it works. We get clients this way.”

Can of Spam. This is what you're sending people on LinkedIn if you pitch them without starting a relationship.I’m sure you do. And there are stories where people agreed to get married after just one date. In fact, there’s a TV show where people agree to get married the moment they meet. That doesn’t make it a sound strategy for building a long-term relationship.

And neither does you hitting me up about your services the very instant I accept your connection request. It’s rude, presumptuous, and desperate. I ignore the people who send me those messages. Maybe I’ll tell them “no thanks,” but usually only if they insist on repeating the same request a couple weeks later — you know, in case I missed it the first time.

The practice is so pervasive that I get at least two of these a week with the same copy-pasted sales pitch all asking for my hand in business marriage.

Part of my problem is that I can’t just refuse to accept people’s connection requests. I’ve written a few social media books, and people often connect with me after reading them. So I don’t want to be a jerk and snub a reader, but it’s getting harder to accept a request because I just know I’m going to get burned.

I can usually spot most LinkedIn spammers though. They tend to have a title that says “Business Development.” They live in a city or country that I have never been to or rarely visit, and yet they’re connected to 5 – 30 of my friends. And they usually work for some sort of web, SEO, or marketing agency.

I stopped accepting connection requests from people who fit that profile because I know what will be cluttering up my inbox 24 hours later.

More importantly, I’ve begun disconnecting from people who spammed me with their first message.

LinkedIn is for serious business connections, not a way for lazy salespeople to spam other people they’ve never met. And that’s what you’re doing: spamming people.

The only difference is you’re calling it business development and you’re (hopefully) doing it by clicking on the mouse yourself, instead of using the automation software that’s infected Twitter. I don’t care if you think it’s not spamming, or you tell yourself that you’re special and you’re not doing what those other people are doing, because you totally are.

You’re sending the same unwanted, unasked-for crap we get in our email inboxes. The only difference is you’re doing it on LinkedIn as if that somehow makes it okay.

Not only do I disconnect with these people, I will also occasionally report them to LinkedIn by clicking the “I don’t know this person” link or marking them as spam. If enough people do it, their account will be suspended or even terminated. And then maybe they’ll get the hint that this isn’t acceptable.

If you’re one of those people who uses LinkedIn instead of the phone to place your unwanted cold calls, why don’t you try some relationship building first? Start a conversation with people. Find out about them first. Don’t try to close the deal on the first date, don’t try to propose entering into a business relationship the moment you meet someone.

And I’ll make you another deal. If you buy a copy of my book and email me a photo of you holding it, I’ll agree to a 15-minute phone call with you about your company. Because if you’re going to make demands of my time without actually investing anything into the relationship, then I’m going to make a demand of my own.

Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in the relationship first, and then we’ll talk about what your company does.

(And then read the book. Maybe you’ll learn a better alternative to the “Married At First Sight” strategy.)

Photo credit: Qwertyxp2000 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Words that Rhyme with Orange, Purple, Silver, and Month

It’s a common misconception that there are certain simple English words that don’t have a rhyme. Orange is the most commonly cited one, although purple is a close second.

In fact, the list I hear the most is orange, purple, silver, and month. That list was even a clue in a recent Ellery Queen pastiche, which I heard on their podcast.

However, being the obsessed word nerd that I am, I like to know uncommon and esoteric words. Which means I know the words that rhyme with orange and a few others.

I even like to throw this out as a little fun fact, especially at conferences.

I spoke at the National Association of Government Communicators Communication School today and yesterday (June 19 & 20), and I promised to reveal those rhymes to the attendees. Which I forgot to do.

So if you’re interested, here are the actual rhymes to those four words:

Sporange is a word that rhymes with orange.

  • Orange: The sporange is a very rare alternative form of sporangium, which is the botanical term for a part of a fern or similar plant. It’s the case or sac where the spores — the equivalent of seeds in a flowering plant — are stored. It’s more frequently called the sporangium, but it exists, so count it! I had a debate over this one in the latest editions of Branding Yourself with @HaggardHawks, the British obscure word finder.
  • Purple: Two words: to hirple is the Scottish word for hobble or walk with a limp, and curple, which is the curved part of the hindquarters of a horse or donkey. Nurple is a slang word, as in “purple nurple” and it does not count.
  • Silver: A chilver is a female lamb.
  • Month: This one is a toughie. The word is the mathematical term, oneth, as in N+1th, such as “hundred-and-oneth” or even in fractions, as in 16/31, or “sixteen-thirty-oneth.”

There are other words that have esoteric rhymes, and I’ll start sharing those as I find some interesting ones. Or get invited back to speak at the NAGC!

A chilver is a female lamb

A chilver is a female lamb. It’s the word that rhymes with silver.

Photo credit: Le Monde végétal, Ernest Flammarion, 1907 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain in France and the US)
jLasWilson (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Ten Social Media Promotion Tips for Audio Drama Creators

I belong to an Audio Drama group over on Facebook, and the question came up about “how do we promote ourselves?” As a long-time audio drama writer and fan, this is something I’ve talked to other theater troupes about, as well as authors, musicians, and visual artists.

Since most (i.e. none) audio theater groups have a budget to do a lot of advertising, doing a little DIY personal branding is going to make a big splash. It will help you find an audience, grow your network of listeners, and by cooperating with other groups, help you cast a wider net to find audience members who are already interested in audio theater as an art form.

Here are ten things you can start doing to grow your audience.

Decoder Ring Theatre cast - Audio Drama creators from Toronto, Canada

Cast of Decoder Ring Theatre, an audio theatre company in Toronto. They produced a few of my radio plays several years ago.

  1. Appear as guests on other podcasts. We are in the golden age of podcasting. The people who are going to listen to your podcasts are the people who already listen to podcasts. So find a way to get interview spots on other people’s podcasts to talk about your work. Check out iTunes and Stitcher for writing podcasts, theater podcasts, horror fiction and comic book nerd podcasts, etc. Reach out to those people and ask them if you can be a guest on their podcast. For example, I’ve been on Park Howell’s Business of Story podcast twice to talk about writing and storytelling. Who better to talk about how storytelling and podcasting than a bunch of audio drama actors? (Tell him I sent you.)
  2. Advertise on Facebook. Set up a Facebook advertising account and create ads to appear only to specific people who fall within a certain age range, gender, family status, work status, and so on. Figure out who your Typical Listener is (soccer moms in their 30s, college students, etc.), and start targeting people who fit that persona. Write some ads, set a daily budget of a couple bucks, and then post the ads. Be willing to spend $40 – $50 per month for 3 months as a test.
  3. Set up a co-operative catalog company. Not actually a company, but just a clearinghouse website that contains all the different audio dramas out there. Everyone who’s involved chips in a few bucks, and that’s how you pay for the Facebook advertising. Advertise that company, rather than individual productions, and you can advertise longer, reach more people with diverse interests, and increase each other’s audiences. Plus, a website this big (possibly with a blog) is going to start winning Google searches for keywords like radio theater, audio theater, and so on.
  4. Create an email newsletter. You can either create your own email newsletter, or create one for this co-op website. Feature one or two audio dramas per issue. Everyone who’s a fan of ANY of the dramas can subscribe, and then you’re reaching a combined audience of everyone’s listeners. (I recommend MailChimp, because they have a free option.) If you start your own newsletter, it’s still a good idea to feature other favorite audio dramas in addition to your own work. Do that for each other, and introduce new artists to your audience.
  5. Do giveaways for fans, and ask them to share your work. Hold random drawings for sharers, and give away small prizes. Ask them to share your new episodes and other content with their own social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. Give prizes for the most creative, the biggest reach, and so on.
  6. Advertise each other’s work on your own podcasts. At the end or in the middle of an episode, during a “commercial break,” play a preview of someone else’s show. Sort of like Amazon’s, “People who like this also bought X” feature. People listening to your podcast may also like this other podcast. Again, do this on a cooperative sharing model, where you create a “ring” of advertisers. A shares on B, B shares on C, C shares on A, etc.
  7. Build a Twitter following. Do a basic Twitter search, and find your Typical Listeners. They’re the ones talking about horror movies or superhero adventures, or whatever you’re producing. They talk about it in their bios, or they talk about it in their tweets. Follow those people, and then put them in a Private Twitter list that you watch daily. Talk to those people, respond to their tweets, answer their questions. Build relationships with them. They’ll want to support you because you’re Twitter buddies.
  8. Follow certain #hashtag topics on Twitter. Is there something happening in the news that ties into your audio drama? Set up a column for that particular term and see if there are any tweets you can respond to. (Use Tweetdeck to easily see and respond to your lists.) Then, when it seems appropriate and not creepy, respond to a tweet with your own. Don’t be ham-handed and say, “Oh, we wrote an audio drama about that. Here it is!” Rather, just participate in the conversation naturally. If people are interested in you and want to know why you’re interested in the subject, they’ll check out your Twitter page. Hopefully you’ve got your audio drama and the website in your Twitter bio.
  9. Don’t forget the visual element. Audio drama may be for the ears only, but if you can add a visual element to your work, do it. If you do live recordings, create a video of those, and post them to YouTube. If you ever perform live in public, share it on Periscope or Facebook Live video. Take photos of people creating the audio drama, and post those to your Instagram account and Facebook, and turn those into stories. And if you’re a fan of the old radio technology, take photos or find others, and post those to Pinterest. Your content may not be for the ear, but there’s still a visual element worth sharing.
  10. Write audio drama reviews. Whether you post it on your own blog, or even if you started the co-op company in #3 and blog for it, review other audio dramas. These don’t have to be critiques and criticism, as if you’re a movie critic. Rather, write a review, where you discuss things that happened, what you enjoyed, etc. (Remember, you all know each other, so don’t be an a-hole!) Publish those reviews as guest articles in as many places as you can too, where others can read them.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.If you focus on just two or three of these items, you can expand your audience of listeners and fans. Then, just be sure to use Google Analytics to measure traffic to your website, Twitter analytics to see how your audience is growing and how they’re engaging with your tweets, and then your podcast analytics to see if any growth there coincides with your new social media efforts.

Want to know about artist branding and social media promotion? Check out my book,Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. The book is now in its third edition, and is published by Que Biz-Tech, an imprint of Pearson Publishing.

Four Ways to Protect Yourself Online

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Florida Writer, a magazine by the Florida Writers Association. They hold their conference in Orlando every October, and Erik will be giving talks on blogging for writers and humor writing.

Twitter was down for a lot of the Northeast during the Florida Writing Conference this past October (2016). In fact, a lot of streaming and Internet sites were down, including Spotify, Netflix, and even The New York Times.

That’s because a major Internet hub was hit with a DDOS attack — a dedicated denial of service, pronounced DEE-doss — which tied up a major portion of the Internet on the East Coast. In short, some “bad actors” (what Internet security people call the bad guys) were sending massive amounts of data to that one particular hub. Imagine the Three Stooges all trying to go through a door at the same time.

It coincided with a question I got during my personal branding talk at the 2016 Florida Writers Association Conference.

Cybersecurity image of a padlock over a screen of jumbled text. TaskRabbit was hacked by cybercriminals, so we thought this was an appropriate image for an article about how to protect yourself online.“How do you protect yourself online?” a woman asked. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to discuss it — I could have spent an entire hour on that subject — so I thought it was worth an article here instead. Here are four ways you can protect your blog, your social media accounts, and even your personal safety online.

1. Use a Password Vault to Generate Random Passwords

A lot of people use simple, easy-to-remember passwords, which can be broken by a hacker’s software in a few hundredths of a second. That means you need complex passwords that are difficult to figure out, but those are hard to remember, especially if you use a different password for each account (which you absolutely should do).

That’s why there are apps that will not only store your passwords, they’ll automatically log you into your accounts. That means you can use complex, nearly-impossible-to-crack passwords without ever having to remember them.

I use 1Password, although LastPass and KeePass are also options. I like 1Password because it operates on Mac and Windows, and works on multiple devices, including my laptop, mobile phone, and tablet, and on every web browser. And I can generate 20-character passwords that use lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and special characters, which look like *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq.

I can also use it to string together four random words instead, which is easier to retype, should the need arise. I generated manpower-lite-feather-pacific for this example, and checked it on a password strength calculator.

According to GRC.com, manpower-lite-feather-pacific would take “7.32 hundred trillion trillion trillion centuries,” at 1,000 guesses per second, to crack (most hackers can only guess a few hundred times per second). And *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq would take “1.34 billion trillion centuries.” (Check out www.grc.com/haystack.htm if you’d like to test your own passwords.)

2. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication Everywhere

You can also ask for additional protection on certain websites, in case someone ever actually does hack into them. That additional protection is a 6-digit numeric code that is texted to you when you log in to that website. It’s a random number, and is only used once for that particular login. It will even expire after a few minutes.

Services like Gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter, Evernote, Apple’s iCloud, iTunes, and even GoDaddy all use two-factor authentication.

When I log in to my Gmail, I’m immediately presented with a dialog box that asks for my 6-digit code. I grab my mobile phone, and within seconds, the 6-digit code has been sent. I enter it into the dialog box, and I’m finally allowed in to my Gmail. That means if someone ever does guess my password, they can’t get past the second factor. This is important, because if someone were to control my Gmail, they could use the “Forgot My Password” feature on every service I belong to, and dismantle my entire life.

3. Never Share Deeply Personal Information

We all like to tell our friends when we’re having fun, so we can rub their noses in it. We share photos of us on vacation, at dinner, at the beach. But you may want to consider who else can see your updates, photos, and personal information.

Just by looking at your social profile and your various photos, people can tell when you’re away on vacation, as well as where you live, while other people are just concerned for their personal safety and people finding out their whereabouts.

To that end, I always recommend the following:

  1. Never share photos while you’re on vacation, only afterward. Don’t tell people when you’re not at home for an extended period of time.
  2. If you live in a smaller city, and don’t want people to know where you live, list a bigger nearby city as your hometown in social bios. For example, if you live in a Louisville suburb, just put down that you live in Louisville.
  3. Don’t share photos of fancy or expensive gifts you received. You don’t want to give thieves a shopping list.

4. Keep Your WordPress Blog Secure

If you host your own WordPress blog on a third-party server, pay careful attention to your security. Your host will manage their server’s security, but you’re responsible for your own blog. (If you use WordPress.com, they’ll manage all security for you. Just make sure you have a solid password!)

There are hundreds of security plugins to keep your WordPress blog secure. I prefer Limit Login Attempts, which will block IP addresses that try unsuccessfully to log into my account eight times, and they’ll email me about the attempted break ins.

Next, I’ll copy that IP address, and then add it to the list of blocked IP addresses in WP-Ban. This permanently bans future login attempts from that IP address, which shuts out any “zombie attacks” — infected computers that are programmed to attack other computers.

Finally, delete the Admin account on your WordPress blog. When you first create a WordPress blog, the default account is called Admin, and it’s usually the account hackers try to break into.

When you first set up your WordPress blog on your server, create a new administrator account with your name. Then, go back and delete the Admin account. That way, hackers can try and try for “7.32 hundred trillion trillion trillion centuries,” but they’ll be knocking on a door that doesn’t even exist.

It’s easy to protect yourself online, thanks to the available tools and best practices the experts have created. The hard part is remembering to stick to them and make them a habit. But if you can follow these steps, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones from an otherwise-unsecure Internet.

Photo credit: TypographyImages (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Erik’s Rules for Writing Short Books

A few days ago, I had to confront my elitist attitude toward books and whether or not I think a book can be anything less than 50 pages that gets spit out over a weekend.

It’s not.

But I also had to rethink my attitude toward any book that was not traditionally published, shorter than 200 pages, and didn’t take several months to produce.

I realized, thanks to my friend, Jim, that these short books — they’re called “novellas” in the fiction world — can actually serve a very useful purpose in helping someone develop their personal brand.

And that helped me to realize that I just need to get over myself and my attitude and learn to accept the newer definition of what a book is supposed to be.

BUT if you want to write a book, even if it’s a short book, there are a few things you need to do to make your book good, no matter how long it is. Otherwise, you’re just creating junk and you’re watering down what it means to write a book and to be an author.

1. A book does not take a weekend to write.
One does not simply "slap a book together." This is especially true if you're writing short books/You might be able to write the first draft in 48 hours, but it’s nowhere near ready. Don’t even think about publishing it. You’ll hear people brag about how they wrote a book in just a weekend or just a couple of days. Good books don’t take this long, so don’t ever be satisfied with the work you produce in a day or two.

This is supposed to be your major marketing tool, your calling card, your social proof that you’re an expert at what you do. You can’t produce that in just one weekend, and whatever it is you produce in that time won’t be good enough to serve that purpose.

2. Make it longer than 50 pages, please.
Expertise is deep and involved, and it has a lot to say. So your book, no matter the topic, should be more than 50 pages long. In fact, the deeper you dive into your topic, the longer it’s going to be. The broader and more general your topic is, the less there is to say about it. The more focused it is, the deeper you can dive.

For example, I could write a book about Marketing in general, and I would run out of things to say in about 30 pages. But I could write a book that focuses on content marketing for enterprise-level companies and come up with volumes of information — wait, I totally did that, and it was 236 pages long.

Dive into a niche, explore every important fact that you can, and add that to your manuscript. If your book is becoming huge and unwieldy, break it up into manageable sections, and flesh out each one thoroughly. Turn them into separate books and sell them as smaller volumes. Your book doesn’t have to be 300 pages, but it should never be shorter than 75. Otherwise that’s just a pamphlet.

3. Revise, revise, revise.
Honest to God, if you publish your first draft, you deserve any and all ridicule and shame because it’s just going to be bad. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”And I’ll bet that’s what your first draft is. Listen, I’ve been writing for 30 years, and I still write shitty first drafts. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that yours is fine.

Revise your manuscript, then revise it a second time, and then you’re ready to start thinking about final edits and publication. You’re not there yet, but you’re ready to start thinking about it.

4. Take time between edits.
You need to wait several days between revisions. Reread your manuscript and make sure you’ve covered all the pertinent information and fixed all the errors you can find. That takes time. We all get used to seeing what we’ve created, especially if we try to revise right after we’ve written it, and so we gloss over actual errors. Our mind just fills in what we expect to see, not what’s actually there. But you’ll catch your errors if you can separate yourself from your work for several days.

Your book should get at least two revisions with at least three days between each one. A week would be better, if you can manage it.

5. Get beta readers.
Send out PDF copies to friends and ask them to read it. Ask them to find holes, typos, unanswered questions, and missing information. I know a guy who wrote a short book about college financial planning. After he ordered his first 30 copies from CreateSpace, someone asked whether it included information about 529 Savings Plans.

It did not. So he burned his first 30 copies, made the additions that ended up being another major section of his book, and ordered 30 more copies.

This guy had basically produced his book in a weekend, done some editing, and then uploaded it for printing. No beta readers, no expert input, no major time between revisions, and so he missed a very important part of college financial planning. This is why you need extra eyes on your work. Sure it’s going to add time, but your book will be better for it.

6. Hire a professional editor.
If you’re going to use this as a business card or a brochure, then it had better be great. You can’t have typos, you can’t have mistakes, you can’t have anything that makes it look half-assed and flawed.

There are people who say “perfect is the enemy of good,” but those are people willing to settle for “good enough.” And good enough is terrible. So do everything you can to make your book great.

That means don’t do the editing yourself. No one is good at editing their own work, even copy editors. Hire someone. For a 75 – 100 page book, you can find a decent copyeditor for a couple hundred bucks. Or you can find a great copyeditor for several hundred dollars. Even a recently-graduated creative writing or English major would be delighted to edit your work for $200, and they’ll do a fantastic job of it.

7. Get a professional cover.
CreateSpace has covers available, but you’ll be much better off if you can hire someone to do your cover design for you. If you’re not a graphic designer, this is not the time for you to take a stab at it.

Get someone with some decent design skills to put one together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or be a $5,000 masterpiece.. If you want some ideas, go to the bookstore and study the book covers in your particular field. Note the design trends, font choices, whether they used photos or illustrations and what kind. Get an idea of what you want your book cover to look like, and then ask your designer to create it for you.

8. Do not, do not, DO NOT screw around with font size and margins in order to boost your page count.
This isn’t high school. Those tricks you did when you had to write your papers to meet word and page count — lots of adverbs, squeeze the margins in to 1.5″, line-and-a-half spacing, 14 pt. type — only make your book look like a complete scam and like you’re deliberately trying to be tricky.

Real books are single spaced, 12 pt. type or smaller, and have 1″ margins or less. A few years ago, I met a guy who bragged about turning a 20 page manuscript into a 30 page collection of words — I won’t call it a “book” — and he advocated screwing with the fonts and margins to make the book thicker.

If you have to do that, just delete your work. Delete it and go back to the drawing board or the classroom, because you clearly don’t have what it takes to write a book in the first place. Because that’s not writing, and it doesn’t demonstrate expertise. That’s dishonest garbage. If you have to lie about how long the book is, I won’t trust a single word in it.

I’m learning to change my way of thinking and my elitist attitude about being a book author. But you have to meet me halfway. Anything that’s less than 30 pages, is poorly written, unedited, and is a stinking word turd is not a book.

Slapping a collection of pages between two pieces of card stock doesn’t make it a book anymore than me wearing bread earmuffs makes my head a sandwich.

So do the work, take the time to make it good, produce something of value, and make sure there’s enough in it to actually be proud of. When you look at it five years later, you don’t want to be embarrassed by a comedy of errors and bad writing that you could have easily prevented with just a little more time..

Writing Books for Personal Branding

I have a confession to make.

I’m a snob when it comes to being a book author. To me, a book has gravitas. It’s more than 200 pages, it’s been properly edited and revised numerous times, and it takes several weeks and even months to create. And, if I’m being honest, it exists in a printed form, having been printed by a traditional publisher.

This puts me at odds with a lot of people, because the modern definition and process of creating a book has changed, thanks to new technology.

  • Word processors let us write and revise manuscripts instead of rewriting them. Forty years ago, you typed a manuscript, made edits, and then retyped it.
  • Ebooks has changed book lengths. Now, we can churn out short stories and novellas, and publish them online and sell them for as little as $1.
  • Short-run self-publishing lets us print a few books. Rather than buying 2,000 copies from a vanity publisher, and having 1,990 copies sit in our garage for years, we can print out a few books at a time.

All of this has democratized the book industry.

The last time we had technology this disruptive was when the printing press was invented. Instead of waiting for a monk to copy a book by hand, you could gather a small group of investors, buy a printing press, and go into publishing yourself, and print whatever the hell you wanted.

That world grew and grew to the point where publishing was huge and unwieldy, and only very special writers could get books published. And then, like most everything else, the Internet broke that system.

Now, not only do the very special writers get books published, so can everyone else.

On most days, I embrace democratization of any elitist system. I’m all for tearing down walls and letting everyone be awesome and cool.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.Want to write your own book? Awesome! Cool! There are ways you can get that published and you don’t have to be a part of that stuffy old elitist system! Power to the people!

Except I finally got to be special this time. I co-authored three books that were published by Real Publishers, and I won’t lie. That feels pretty good. (I co-authored a fourth book that was self-published, but I feel a little self-conscious about it.)

So I roll my eyes whenever someone holds up a 50 page stack of papers and says “I wrote a book!”

Because that’s not a book, that’s a pamphlet.

“I wrote it over a weekend,” they boast.

I want to shout. “That should be a warning, not a brag!”

“And you can too!”

“Like bloody hell you can,” I want to say, but I never do.

And so my protective instincts kick in and I want to stop people watering down what it means to be an author, or promoting this crazy notion that you can just spit out a book over a weekend.

Except I’m rethinking my whole attitude.

I have seen the light!

I was at a networking lunch recently where someone was talking about how “easy” it is to write your own book. It happened a day after I heard a podcast interview about the very same thing.

“Just take a talk you like to give, and record yourself talking about it. Or come up with 10 – 12 questions and record yourself answering them. Get that audio transcribed, edit it into something readable and coherent, and upload it to CreateSpace. Bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got a book!”

Look, a good book is not that easy. And something that easy will not be good.

All of my books have taken two people four or five months to write. The last edition of Branding Yourself took four months, and I worked on it for 10 – 15 hours a week. I was supposed to cut it down to 300 pages, and instead, it weighs in at 380 pages. But it’s good, and I’m very proud of it.

Because writing a book is hard work, it takes time, and you have to know your subject and you have to be able to write about it well.

And it has to be thick, right? Right?

Maybe not.

“These short books are a good personal branding tool, aren’t they?” asked my friend, Jim. We were sitting together at the networking lunch. “They show that you have some expertise about that topic and they give you some credibility.”

I stared at Jim, stopped in my tracks, mouth open a little. “Well. . . maybe,” I said begrudgingly

“They don’t all have to be big thick tomes, right? I mean, this is the kind of information you’d share with someone in an hour-long conversation over coffee.”

I stared a little more. “I guess,” I pouted.

I hate Jim.

It was in that moment, mouth open and staring, that Jim’s question was my epiphany. Books aren’t just meant to be read. They don’t exist independently of the author. They reinforce the author’s expertise and make them look like geniuses about their particular field. They support the writer’s personal brand better than a business card or even their social media accounts.

That’s when I realized books don’t have to be 380 page bludgeoning weapons. They really can be smaller, shorter, and less in-depth than my “proper” book that I toiled over for nearly half a year.

I really hate Jim.

One guy who spoke at the networking event had just published his own book. In fact, it was his third attempt, because his very first attempt was over 200 pages. Then he revised it and cut it down to 100. And then he dumped that version and wrote it in 75 pages.

Because — and this is important — his subject matter didn’t need 200 pages.

Pat used to own a high-end AV company that helped event, conference, and meeting planners put on big stage shows. And he knew how to grow other AV companies to become successful.

That kind of knowledge is really only useful to other AV company owners, and most of them already have a lot of the knowledge that Pat has. Which means he doesn’t have to explain the basics, and he can get right to the point without any fluff and extraneous bullshit.

And that only takes 75 pages.

It didn’t need to be any longer. Anything more would have just been wasted space and wasted effort and it wouldn’t have added anything of value.

Which means I have to rethink my attitudes about books and what a “real book” can and should be.

Stupid Jim!

But that doesn’t mean you can slack off! There are still certain rules and expectations we all have.

I mean, we’re not graphic designers, for God’s sake!

I actually came up with 8 Rules for Writing a (Short) Book. But this post ran on too long, so I decided to cut it here, and I’ll run those 8 rules in a day or two.