Beginners’ Self-Publishing Salon with Jay Artale & Michael La Ronn
It’s the start of the new year and a great time to look at the year ahead to determine what writing goals you’d like to achieve. Listen in as Michael and I talk about our writing goals, and the challenges that stand in our way to achieving success and how to overcome them.
Here’s a summary of the topics we covered:
- 2017 Reflections
- Using and Leveraging Existing Content
- Finding Writing Efficiencies
- Scrivener 3.0
- Premium Version of Grammarly
- Tracker Box
- Amazon Ads
- Accountability Partners
- Author Platform
- Author Collaboration
- New goals for 2018
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Each month we’ll be discussing a different aspect of the self-publishing journey from a beginning authors perspective.
Read our Beginners’ Self-Publishing Salon Transcript
Jay: Hello, this Jay Artale and this is the Beginners Self-Publishing Salon podcast and it’s January 2018 and I’m joined by Michael La Ronn today. How are you Michael?
Michael: I’m great Jay, happy 2018.
Jay: Thank you very much, happy new year to you too. So, we missed December and we’ve transitioned our podcast over to a new server (Libsyn). You would have seen details of that. So, hopefully there’s no breaking down in our podcast in iTunes and we’re able to reach you there successfully.
We thought we’d kick off this year, and this podcast by looking at the year behind us, which is always good to get a positive reinforcement from what we’ve managed to achieve in 2017. And then looking forward to 2018 and then asking for your opinion on what you would like to see in the podcast for the rest of the year.
So, Michael, who’s the New Year started off for you?
Michael: It started off pretty good, I had a pretty strong year, so last year I would say was my, from a production standpoint, my best year ever. I ended the year with around 13 novels, so, that was a lot of fun. My goal was 12, so, I hit 13, so that was really cool. I published my Galaxy Maverick space opera series which did really well. I also wrote an urban fantasy series, started that, and that will be published probably spring of this year. So, overall from a production standpoint, I was really happy.
Jay: Yeah, and you redesigned some covers, didn’t you?
Michael: yeah, I redesigned a bunch of my work. So, as of now, I have pretty close to 40 titles, which is a lot if you think about it and so going back and giving all of my covers a consistent brand an a consistent look, that was a major undertaking for me this year. And I redid about 10, maybe 12 of my covers so they all kind of have the same look and feel right now. So that when I start this year, I can start with a pretty fresh platform so that when people look at a book, they know instantly that it’s a Michael La Ronn book. So, there was a great deal of design and forethought into getting that started but with as many titles as I have, I have to have some sort of consistent experience for the readers. And so, it was a little overwhelming at times but I’m definitely glad I got it done.
Jay: Well, especially since you’ve started all your other endeavors, law school and things like that.
Michael: Yeah, law school, minor details right? I survived my first semester, so, I was very pleased to see that I survived and, you know, they didn’t cart me out in a body bag or anything like that. So, how about you, how are things going?
Using and Leveraging Existing Content
Jay: Well, you know, a humans tendency to focus on the negative, when I was looking back on my year and I was thinking well, I only published one book. I’ve been focused on my content marketing business and not really on my writing and I was feeling a bit despondent, I only managed to write and publish one book. Now, I know there are lots of authors out there who would be pretty happy to write and publish one book in a year. But when there’s authors like you, churning them out, you know, you suddenly feel the pressure. You start looking around at authors, don’t you, and start doing that comparison of ok, I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve or I’m not measuring up. But then I started thinking of all the other things that I have done. I brought out, one of my books that was on e-book, I brought it out in print and I did a whole lot of activity around building my mailing list, so, taking content from my paperback and e-book, which is F-R-E-E Writing for Travel Writers, and leveraging that content, so, it’s got writing prompts in there for travel writers. I created ten work books and had those as give away PDFs and I released one a month. So, you know, I started feeling a lot better when I started looking at all the other ancillary, so, more of my activity was not around writing and output of another book but I was using content and leveraging content and trying to build my audience. So, you know, being an author is just so multifaceted, it’s sometimes difficult to do everything at once so, you have to pick your battles of what you’re going to focus on. So, I felt good once I realized what I had done.
But, you know, looking back over the year is a good opportunity, isn’t it, to do that, that check of what you’ve actually achieved because it’s easy to forget.
Michael: Oh definitely, yeah, and don’t forget, you were involved with a lot of things with ALLi too, right? So, the Indie Author Fringes and all the other initiatives that ALLi’s been working on, so, you’ve definitely been busy.
Jay: Yes but then I feel like, for 2018, I want to get more of a focus on writing. And I don’t know if you heard the Orna Ross and Joanna Penn podcast, I think it was from November? And they were talking about the different energies that you need when you’re writing a book, you know, the starting energy, the middle energy and then the finishing energy?
And I know, after listening to that, I felt really good that I have that finishing energy issue, that I have lots of enthusiasm at the beginning of a project and then I get a book about three quarters of the way through and then I kind of lose interest with it and then I’ll start something else? It’s like that shiny ball syndrome? Start something new and get enthusiastic about. So, my goal for 2018 is to take those things that are so close to the finish line and get them over the finish line. So, that’s what I want to try and do.
Michael: That’s awesome and I think that’s why I love the new year, is that you can look back and you can have these reflections and maybe see some of the blind spots that you couldn’t see earlier in the year, right? And then being able to make a plan.
Finding Writing Efficiencies
Jay: Yeah, and I think looking at what worked for you in the previous year and what didn’t work, you know, processes or tools that worked for you or didn’t work? I know, you know, one of the things that you opened my eyes to last year was how to be more efficient with writing and now I use my phone to write or record directly into Scrivener on my phone and then it syncs up so that when I get back on to my laptop, it’s got all of my little random notes. And that really revolutionized and changed how I work. And I don’t know if you saw that Scrivener have just released a new version, I think its Scrivener 3.0, I don’t know if you saw that?
Michael: Yes I did. Yeah I did, I actually updated it last night and had a chance to play around with it for a little bit. It’s interesting. They’re billing it as a major update and it is a major update and I’m really glad to see an updated Scrivener because I think it’s been, I don’t know how many years it’s been but it’s been years since Scrivener 2.0 came out. But really, it looks and feels pretty much the same. There really are no major differences in that area. One of the things that I did like though, is that the design is a little bit sleeker, especially if you have a newer Mac, you’ll notice that the colors are, they just look a little bit better and updated and better for some of these higher retina screens that are coming out on Macs. But another thing that I like that it does is there is a writing statistics section, so before, you can click a button and you can see the statistics of your project. So, it would tell you, you have 10 000 words written, right? Now what it does is it will show you your statistics over time. So, it will show you that you wrote 500 words on Monday, 700 on Tuesday, 300 words on Wednesday and you can see the trends. Which, I think is pretty useful because I used to track all that on a spreadsheet and it got kind of old so, it’s kind of nice to see that right there within the app itself.
Jay: Does it show you like the time of day you write or does it just show you the days? I wonder if it shows you that you do like mornings or afternoons and where you get your most output?
Michael: No, I think it just shows the actual output. I don’t think it shows the days, I don’t remember seeing a section for time of day but I think that’s useful.
Jay: Yeah, I’m traveling at the moment, so, I didn’t want to do any major updates on any software while I’m traveling but that’s on my list of when I go back, that I want to upload. So, have you still recorded on your phone and written on your phone, and it syncs and all of that still works?
Michael: Yeah, all that still works and I believe they said the IOS version was already built with Scrivener 3 in mind. So, I haven’t experienced any weird issues between the two formats. They work just fine.
Jay: Good, because I’d hate for that to break because I love it.
Michael: Yeah, I would encourage people, if you’ve got the cash, I think it’s $25 if you already have a license, so, if you’ve got the cash, just go ahead and make the update. It’s not very often that Scrivener updates their software and so I think that’s something, if you use the software on a daily basis like I do, just like you’d update Photoshop or you’d update any other major software, I would consider this a major update. I would go ahead and do it right away.
Jay: Yeah, yeah, ok, well, it’s on my list. One thing I did invest in for the beginning of the year is, I’ve always used the free version of Grammarly.
Michael: Oh, Grammarly, ok.
Jay: Yeah, I’ve always used the free version of Grammarly, but there was a promotion going on, you know, of 50% off for the first year, so I uploaded to premium which I’m hoping, and it said that it has stats so that it can see your writing style and I guess it gathers that over time? I couldn’t see where that was. I only upgraded recently to that. I’m hoping that that will be beneficial. I did that because most of my books are non-fiction and I wanted to have a really active way of writing, you know, and get rid of passive sentences and passive paragraphs and everything? So, that’s really good for that and I thought that that would motivate me to get some of my books over the line by doing, you know, my first round of editing in there before I send it out to an editor, to get it in the tone that I want to do.
Michael: That’s cool, yeah, you’ll have to let me know how the premium works, I hear people say a lot of really good things about Grammarly.
Jay: Yes, so, I’m hoping it will be good. It is a bit funky because you can have it as a browser plug in so that anywhere that you’re in, so that if you’re in like a WordPress site or if you’re in an email, it will do the spell check and you know, all of the Grammarly checking as you go? But for some reason, it doesn’t work very well in Safari. I kind of live in Safari as opposed to on Google Chrome or on Firefox but it seems that so many things have a bit funky going on with Safari, they don’t always talk nicely to each other.
Jay: So, that’s the only thing but have you seen any new processes or any new systems that you fancy trying out this year?
Michael: I haven’t seen any, well, actually I take that back. I backed the kickstarter campaign for Tracker Box, I don’t know if you heard of that?
Jay: No I haven’t?
Michael: Tracker Box is currently a Windows only software that authors can use to track their sales. So, I think a lot of people have probably heard of Book Report, where you log in to your KDP dashboard and then you click a button and then it overlays on the top of it and it shows you all your data in real time, right? Well the only issue I have with that is that you have to log in to KDP to get that and I don’t necessarily know that you have to give them your password but it feels like you do? And so it feels like it’s not as secure as maybe it could be. Book Report actually lives on your computer and all you have to do is import your sales spreadsheets into Book Report and it will create the data for you. So, there’s less of a security concern and it makes it all in to a nice pretty little package. But the biggest complaint about Tracker Box over the last couple of years is that it’s been Windows only. So, the founder of Tracker Box created a kickstarter, I think it was about a month ago, and if it funded, he would develop it for OSX. So, that got backed and it was successful. So, that’s going to be released, I think, in February. So, if you’re a Mac user and you’ve kind of wanted a better way to track your sales, there’s help on the way.
Jay: Oh right, yeah, that sounds great.
Michael: So, I’m looking forward to that.
Jay: Yeah, no that will be good. So, have you heard any kind of new things on the horizon from a marketing or promotion perspective? Like BookBubs or anything like that, that’s on the horizon, that people are doing things differently? I know there’s, towards the end of the year it seemed lots of authors were having struggles with Facebook advertising and there’s been a kind of renewed interest in Amazon ads, I don’t know if you do Amazon ads at all?
Michael: I do Amazon ads, I have, the ads that I have done so far have been profitable but profitable on a small scale. I haven’t really been able to scale it. I picked up Brian Meek’s book Mastering Amazon Ads. That was a pretty good read, it kind of gave me some background on how to set up my ads up and things like that. And if you’re interested in something like that, I know this is more of a, you know, we’re focusing on beginners and authors who are maybe writing their first book but if you are focused on that or want to learn more about how that works, that’s definitely a good book to pick up. Because before that, I had no idea what any of that stuff on that dashboard meant. It was like doing science, you know, that kind of stuff, the pay per click advertising, doesn’t always come very easily to me. So, that was a pretty good book to read.
Yeah, I’ve heard some talk about Amazon ads making a comeback. BookBub, I still think is the best way to probably market your book right now. Although there’s some talk about the rank stripping from Amazon, cutting back on some authors who’s books are being promoted, I’ve heard some talks of that. So, there’s some rumblings that BookBub may not be as effective as it used to be but I still think people are flocking to it.
So, from a marketing perspective, I haven’t heard of too many other trends but then again, I haven’t really been listening to the podcasts and following the blogs as diligently as I should have, in the past couple of weeks. How about you?
Jay: I’ve been spending a bit more time on Amazon ads, I don’t know if you will remember, for the Indie Author Fringe in October, Dave Chesson, who is the kindlepreneur, he has a podcast and he does a lot around Amazon and KDP and in his presentation, he talked about Amazon ads and how you can target your ads. So, he does a free AMS course on Amazon advertising. So, it’s a group of small classes to help you understand how to find your key words and it was quite enlightening, all the different ideas he had about how to choose your key words. He obviously, is part of KDP Rocket, he’s the behind Rocket.
Michael: Yeah, that’s his program, which is awesome by the way.
Jay: Yeah, because I’ve got Kindle Spy, but I need to get KDP Rocket because in another one of the Indie Author Fringe presentations, there was a comparison of how you use both of them together in tandem to choose your key words to really work through finding niches.
And that’s really especially relevant for non-fiction authors that are trying to find, you know, popular niches. So, he had lots of great information in his course and just great insights about how to choose the key words. Because I’ve had multiple Amazon ads for different books, some of them have been really good, for my F-R-E-E Writing, that ones obviously done really well because I’m, like you, I’ve got small profits on that but one of my books, I got lots of clicks but no purchases. So, now I’m looking at, well, I’m getting clicks so, I’m either not attracting the right audience or something, once they get to my book, is not getting them to want to purchase it. So, I’m just trying to figure out how I can promote that book and get Amazon ads to work for me. So, I’m messing around with the key words. And I think that’s a good entry level, if you’ve got one book, a beginning author with one book, Amazon ads is definitely a good starting level but it’s not a big financial outlay. And it’s easy to track, you know, whether you’ve spent more than you’ve made. So, I like their dashboard.
Michael: Yeah, and the nice part about Amazon ads too, is that they are in no hurry to spend your money, you can set a dollar a day budget and you’ll be lucky if they spend 60 cents out of that. So, I think it is a great tool for beginners as compared to Facebook, where if you give them a dollar, it’s like a money monster. I mean they just chomp through your money before noon, you know, most of the time. And so, Amazon ads is a good way to get started, definitely. And it’s also, from a learning perspective, you can do a lot of the learning and experimenting with the Amazon ads before your ads go live, you know? Like you can get all the data through programs like KDP Rocket and through things like Dave’s course that you can’t necessarily get with Facebook ads. I feel like Facebook ads is like the school of hard knocks, you know, you’ve got to loose money before you learn. And I just don’t think that’s the best way if you’ve never done pay per click advertising before.
Jay: No, I definitely don’t think it’s right, especially for a beginner. You need something that is controllable and that you can put the breaks on if you don’t like it, you know? And when I was first doing KDP ads for my F-R-E-E Writing, I was looking every day and then when I saw that I’m always, I’ve been consistently up and selling more books than I’m spending on the ads, then, you know, now I just check in. And I started different versions, different ads using different key words so that I can check to see which key words are working. And I think that’s really good because then it really starts you thinking about key words so that in your listing on KDP, where you’ve got your seven key words to put in, it makes you kind of refine those and get more specific about that. So, the more that you understand around key words, especially if you’re a beginning author, not just for your website, you know, but on your listings? Like how do you get found, how do you get discovered? And it’s by those key words, whether they’re in your title or whether they’re in your book description, they’re so critical to understand and I know there’s probably some creative people out there that really don’t want to get in to key words but, you know, if people can’t find your book, you’re not going to sell it. So, at some point, at some level, you have to get involved.
Michael: And key words are ever changing too. The last time I looked at my key words on a good number of my older books was two years ago. That’s a focus for me this year, is to go back through and update my key words because that’s one of those invisible things where you can make a couple of small changes with the right data and you’ll be surprised what it will do to your sales. Although a lot of people don’t think about it or want to do it.
Jay: That must be quite a task with as many books as you’ve got?
Michael: Yeah, I have to, it’s funny because I pick certain projects that I want to work on throughout the year and then I work on those projects. So, there are certain elements of my portfolio that I go through, I don’t do the whole thing, because otherwise I’d just go crazy. So, last year was book covers, going through the book covers and making sure that those were on point. And then this year it’s going to be key words and international pricing. So, I haven’t done the greatest job of making sure that my international prices are attractive, so, like making sure that it’s priced properly in pounds, that my books are priced properly in euros and all of that. So, I’m just looking at that again and making some course corrections and making sure that my price points are relevant to the markets that my books are available.
Jay: So, in addition to focusing on that, I’m sure you’re trying to write a whole load more books as well, yeah?
2018 Writing Goals
Michael: A couple [laugh], write a couple of books this year. We’ll see where I end up but my goal has always been one a month. I think that, just based on how I work, I think that’s always been a good goal. I don’t always hit that one a month. Sometimes I could do two a month. But sometimes I won’t write one, I’ll write no novel in January but I’ll end up writing two in February, something like that. So, yeah, I’m writing an urban fantasy series right now. It’s kind of Dresden Files meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is kind of how I’m marketing it right now but yeah, I’ve got the covers done for those, so those are fun. I’m looking forward to being able to unveil those and then later this year, I’m going to write, probably a post-apocalyptic series. I’m going to dip my toe in that genre. There’s a story that I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time on that. But that will probably be near the end of the year. How about you, what are you going to write this year?
Jay: Well, like I say, I’ve got all these half finished projects that, and I think part of the challenge is trying to establish a niche because, you know, I’m a non-fiction writer, so, I think the arena out there, there’s so many authors out there, so many people writing about the same thing, that you really have to become strong in your niche and you have to be able to identify a micro niche. As you know, I write in the travel genre with the challenges with my main travel guides around Turkey is tourism in Turkey is not doing good. So, the book sales flopped and this year, I mean last year was when I started looking at, well I’m a travel writer so why don’t I do how to books about travel writing? So, I did my F-R-E-E Writing for Travel Writers. So, it’s still in the same niche but it allows me to kind of write travel guides and how to guides and then, now, I’m in Cambodia and I’m writing a travel guide about Cambodia but I see the value of the how to guides. So, I’ve been, I think, the last part of the year, I was just trying to kind of find my platform of where I wanted to focus. Because until you know what niche you’re in and what audience you’re trying to do, you know, it’s wasted effort being on social media, it’s wasted effort doing marketing and advertising, until you really know who you’re trying to reach, because it’s just a half hearted effort. So, I feel like I’ve got some clarity around it now and I want to put my effort in to those non-fiction how to guides for travel writers and travel bloggers and I just need to get those little puppies written and edited.
Michael: I think that’s pretty smart, yeah, I like that idea. Because thinking about, if I were to pick up and go to Turkey or to London or just start traveling the world with like lifestyle design, right? I don’t think I would now the first thing about what to pack or, you know, and I don’t think I’ve seen any books on that, I think that’s a really good idea.
Jay: Yeah, so, focusing on that and I’ve been thinking about it at the end of last year and now I want to do it. So, I’m putting together a schedule in Asana because that’s my way. I like writing things down and just getting a plan set out. What about you, do you, when you set your goals for the New Year, do you plan them out like tasks and projects or do you just set kind of creative intentions of what you want to achieve?
Michael: This is the corporate background in me speaking, so I set, this is going to make some people cringe. But this is really the only way to say it, is I have a score card for myself, where I develop certain areas where I want to focus on through the year and I grade myself on that scorecard. So, I take three days a year, one day around the beginning of the year, one day around the middle of the year and then one day around the end of the year. And I just look at kind of what I’ve done. And so, everything I do is based on that particular scorecard. So, some of the things that I want to focus on are what’s on there. So, profitability and growth, I’m just looking at my sales, looking at the expenses, looking at what I can do to make sure that both of those are in check. Asset management, which is what I consider gardening, you know? Making sure that all my titles are, they look the way they should look, they read the way they should read, that my quality is where it needs to be with the editing and all that sort of stuff. Marketing is an important one and then also just keeping an eye to the future. So, looking at some of these new ventures that are coming out, trying to find new markets, those don’t come up that often but when they do, and then what do I want? Like what is the long term vision right? I like to think about the year ahead but I also like to think about where the year ahead fits in with the next five to 10 years. And so, one of the things that I want to start doing is I haven’t, I’ve been a little shy about breaking in to audio. So, I’m kind of waiting until I’ve got more titles to bust in to audio and, so, everything I’m doing right now is really just focusing on those fundamentals, like e-books and print. So, I track all my stuff in One Note and I do it a couple of times a year. And I just review that periodically just to make sure that I’m on track and just to make sure that anything that I’m doing is serving the ultimate goals that I have. I think no matter how you do it, just having some way of writing down your goals and just being able to compare what you’ve done throughout the year to whatever those original goals you set, is important.
Jay: Yeah, and I think what you said there, that really resonated with me, is not just looking at the year ahead but, you know, further down the line like five years, 10 years, like, we don’t know what is in the future but where are we kind of heading to because that kind of helps me when I do my planning, of looking at that long term of where I’m trying to get to so that I can see how the different elements of what I’m doing fit in to that ultimate direction of where I’m trying to get to. Of course you course correct as you go and over the years you adapt and change from internal and external things that are happening but I think looking at that long term and if you are struggling and if beginning authors are struggling with, you know, what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to achieve, looking at where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years, where do you want to be? And then looking at how you’re going to get yourself there and setting those shorter term goals. So, I like having those big, long term goals but I need to have short, this is the corporate person in me talking, is I need goals. I know lots of creatives will shudder at the thought of doing task tracking and goals and managing and creating smart goals and measurements and all of that but I think the key for any author is finding what works for you and just, you know, work it. And whether it’s setting creative intentions and working on one thing at a time or working on multiple things? At least set yourself short goals in whatever you want to achieve, break it down into small little bite size chunks so that you feel like you’re making progress because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re treading water and not achieving what you want to achieve.
And I don’t know about you but my year goes by so quickly, 12 months soon fly by and you just completely…
Michael: 12 months is like a blink of an eye, it really is. Another way, if you’ve never set goals before, think about your goals like cookies, right? Every goal you set is a cookie. And so, you’re on a path and every once in a while you come across a cookie, you pick up the cookie and you eat it and then you move on, you know? That’s the way I like to think about them because then it kind of gives me something to think about and also, it’s fun, right? You don’t want to set goals for yourself that aren’t fun. You don’t want to set a goal for yourself that is like, I have no books now but I want to be an author by the end of next year. That’s just silly and you’ll stress yourself out and it’s not worth it. Make sure that your goals are realistic and just make sure that they’re tailored for you and don’t, don’t hear other people’s goals and think that those goals have to be your goals. Because I think that we as a community fall into that, right? We’ve got so many podcasts and so many blogs and for lack of a better way of saying it, a lot of them are saying the same thing, right? And so it’s easy to think that the way other authors are doing it is the way that you have to do it but that’s just not the case. Just focus on yourself, you know? Don’t get comparesytis as Joanna Penn often calls it, right? Just focus on your career and you will be surprised if you set your own goals, how far along you’ll go on the road. That’s my rant, that’s not really a rant but that’s mine.
Jay: Whatever you use, whether you use a task tracking system like Asana or Trello or whether you use, you know, a spreadsheet or a notepad or a note board or whatever it is, you’re right, it has to be fun to use because it becomes a chore. It will last a couple of months and then you’ll stop doing it, which is pointless. So, trying to find out, you know, how much planning do you need to keep you on track and then just doing that, that, you know, using the tools and the processes that you enjoy. And there’s so much out there, there really is. It would be interesting to hear from the listeners as to what tools or processes work for them. Especially from a beginners perspective. Because I think the biggest challenge is getting overwhelmed, so, how do you keep things simple, how do you keep things on track without getting distracted, without getting overwhelmed with oh my god, I need to be doing Facebook ads and I need to be trying to get a BookBub, you know? And meanwhile you’ve only got one book under your belt, you know? So it’s really what are those priorities. And I think that might be good for this year, looking at, you know, the episodes that we’re going to do is how do you create that foundation as a beginning author, that will stand you in good stead on a long term basis. Because there’s no point, you know, writing ten books and not having an author platform, you know? How can your readers reach you, how can you build your mailing lists, all of those things so, it will be good, maybe on our next show, to look at an author platform and how beginning authors need to get that set up?
Michael: Yeah, definitely and I love that you said that because it’s all about crawling before you can walk, right? You’ve got to be able to take those baby steps and make sure that certain things are in order before you move on to the next thing. And I think, like you said, it’s so easy to run around and be overwhelmed, like, you have to do all these different, ten million different things that all these other authors are doing and you really don’t, right? You just have to focus on the core. Focus on the fundamentals. I can’t remember what basketball coach said that the reason he was so successful was because he had people, you know, just practice the fundamentals over and over again. And the fundamentals in this business are writing a good book, learning how to do that, learning how to connect with your audience, right, learning business, right, learning from your past experiences and then just as best you can, trying to look forward and just trying to figure out where you fit in the market place. Those are the fundamentals.
Jay: So, when you set your goals for yourself, are you able to keep yourself accountable or do you have any kind of collaboration or accountability partner that you check in with to make it seem like less of a solitary existence?
Michael: I’m a pretty solo dude. I don’t really have any accountability partners. I have friends that I check in with every once in a while and we chat but yeah, I just keep my goals to myself and this is not necessarily what I would recommend for other people. I just have always tended to work better by myself. But yeah, I think an accountability partner, I’ve never thought about that from a, like, I always think about accountability partners in terms of writing your novel, right? Like, you have someone that checks in with you once a day or once a week and you know, gives you a little bit of a kick in the rear if you’re not where you need to be. But I never thought about it from a goal setting perspective, like, how are you going to get better at marketing this year? And I think that’s interesting. How about you, that sounds like you, do you have something in place fort that?
Jay: I can’t for the life of me remember which podcast it is, but it’s two guys, one guy who’s kind of keeping the other guy accountable and he has to check in on, you know, his progress of writing his book. And I’ll have to do a little research and find out what it was but I came across it and this author was saying, you know, this podcast helps him keep accountable because he’s kind of talking about his author journey on the podcast. So, if he doesn’t do the work that he’s meant to be doing, if he isn’t writing, then he’s got nothing to talk about in the podcast. So, you were saying that you’re not really sharing your goals but you’ve just shared all your goals with our listeners, so …
Michael: I guess you’re right, touché, touché.
Jay: So, you’re on the hook now Michael, I have to tell you that.
Michael: Yeah, I guess, it’s funny, so, I’ve shared most of my goals but one of the things that I …
Jay: You’ve got some super goals.
Michael: It doesn’t seem like I’m sharing them, well, I guess we talk about the goal as podcasters, it’s just like a conversation between two people, right? But yeah, I guess you’re right, I guess I have shared my goals on the podcast. Yeah, I don’t know what else to say, you completely derailed my chain of thought here, thinking, how am I going to respond to this.
Jay: Well, when I listened to that other podcast around this author and how the podcast was keeping him accountable, I was hoping of maybe using this podcast as an opportunity to keep me on the hook for the books that I need to write. And to get, you know, each month we’re going to have a check in and obviously we’re going to be talking about the content and I think next month, if we can talk about setting up an author platform and how we can get that set up for, you know, beginning authors. But then use that as an opportunity to look at our own author platforms, so, you’ve got an active website, is it on your plans to revamp it?
Michael: Yeah, I have actually just revamped my website and I did it from the group up. I redid everything and I did it from a user experience, user usability standpoint. So, just trying to make it easier for people who are coming to my website, ok, where are you coming from, who are you, you know, what are you looking for? That sort of thing is what’s been going through my mind. So, yeah, I would love to talk about the platform and building an author website because I feel like I’ve made a lot of the classic mistakes throughout the years and I feel like the most recent version of my website is probably one of my better ones. So, if anyone wants to visit it, www.michaellaronn.com. We can talk through some of that next month. And that may be something that will require more than one episode too because there’s so many different components and elements to developing your website, that we probably could spend a few episodes on it.
Jay: Yeah, that would be good. Maybe we could touch on it, cover other topics as well but maybe make, you know, evolve our websites over time? Because I know one of the biggest things that authors find a challenge with is, you know, what to write about. They have their books on there but how do they engage that audience, how do they, you know, build their author niche around the topic that they’re writing about? So, I think that that will be a really good topic for next time as well.
Michael: Definitely, so, I have to go back to the comment that you made previously about accountability, right? So, if we’re going to use the podcast to be accountable, we should set some goals here publicly, right? That we can check back on a year from now and go back so, when we have our 2019 episode where we’re looking back, we can measure our goals. So, why don’t we come up with two goals that we both want and maybe a goal for production and a goal for everything else? So, it could be business, it could be marketing, right? Do you want me to go first or do you want to go first?
Jay: No, you’re on the hook, what do you want for production …
Michael: Ok. Production wise, I am going to publish my new urban fantasy series and I am going to write at least seven to eight novels this year.
Jay: Ok. Well, I have my four part How to Write a Travel Guide series so, I am going to commit to getting three of those out next year, published.
Michael: Ok, this year?
Jay: Sorry, this year, yes. So that when we talk about it next year, we’ve got three under my belt as my achievements for 2018.
Michael: Ok. From a, I think I’m going to focus on my back catalogue this year and I am going to update the key words and categories and international pricing for all of my current existing titles. So, I’m probably going to do that by the middle of the year and my goal for that or my hope for that would be that I see some sort of increase in sales in international markets and maybe bring in some new readers to my mailing list and things like that, that comes with optimizing your sales. And that’s a massive undertaking for me. I say that, you know, if you have one book, that’s really easy. But if you have 40 books, with, you know, seven to eight new books coming out, it’s going to be tough to redo the book descriptions and key words and categories for all of them [laugh], you know? So, that will be a big undertaking for me this year.
Jay: So, when you do that and you look at your books and you’ve got a bunch of books in a series, can changes that you make to one book apply to other books in the series?
Michael: Yeah they can. I mean usually it just depends on, you know, like with my Galaxy Maverick series, the key words are going to be a little different, just based on the book but yeah, some of the changes you make could potentially apply to the rest of the series. But I think one of the things that I’ve been a little guilty of is maybe not paying so much attention to everything but book one? So, book nine of my Galaxy Maverick series probably needs a better description than is on there now. I will admit I probably just through it together and put it on there. So, I’m going to be thoughtful about all of the different books that I have and make sure that every one gets the book description that it needs. How about you?
Jay: So, if there are any listeners out there that want to do a public, hold their hands up about something around production, whether it’s finishing your first book or getting your first book edited or bringing your first e-book out in print, whatever it is, let us know what your goals are and then we can all work together to hold each other accountable. Because I think, you know, being an author, you talked about it earlier about being a kind of solo author and keeping yourself to yourself and working on your own goals and I know I tend to do as well and I don’t think I want an accountability partner to work with per say but I would like collaboration opportunities this year with other authors. I did some last year and I think collaboration and working together when you’re an indie author and when you’re just starting out, especially, so that you can learn from other people, you know?
Jay: One of the things I did do well last year was I published the poetry book but it’s, you know, an Alzheimer’s poetry book so it’s a bit of a small niche and I didn’t want to promote that book on my own. So, I actually Googled Alzheimer’s and authors and there’s a group out there called Alzheimer’s Authors of five authors who have first hand experience with parents with Alzheimer’s and they’ve written books and they created this consortium to help other people who have Alzheimer’s related books to reach readers and they do joint promotions. So, that’s been really good. And I’d never really thought about doing that before although it’s really obvious that, you know, you need to find other people in your niche and not see them as competition and how can you work with each other and help each other? And whether it’s working with one person that you’ve met online or working in a Facebook group, I think collaboration is part of success and maybe you don’t want an official accountability partner but that kind of support system and I think we’ve talked about that in one of our other podcasts around, you know, that’s one of the really important elements, is having that support system around you.
Michael: Absolutely. So, from your goal, I hear looking or being open to and pursuing more opportunities for collaboration?
Jay: Yeah, definitely, so one of the things is, if I am writing books in the same niche as other authors, you know, listing their books at the back of my books, and, you know, vice versa. So, try and find more collaborations like that to broaden my audience to try and reach the readers that I’m trying to reach in the niche. And what got me thinking about this is when you’re looking at setting key words in Amazon ads, you know, you can pull up other author names so when, in the same niche of yours, so, looking at those key words and then how does that apply to you, how can you use those key words in marketing or in collaboration? So, trying to find those authors to collaborate with and hopefully there’s lots of solo authors out there that, you know, they’re looking for someone to take the initiative to collaborate with, especially beginners, you know, I think it’s difficult isn’t it …
Michael: It is.
Jay: … to write that email, to ask people, you know, will you collaborate with me. But, you know, get your first book out there and then start looking to collaborate with people or join a group. I’m part of a memoir Facebook group. I’m kind of a part of that group through my memoir poetry collections and, you know, there’s a whole group of authors who just write memoirs and they help each other, they do cross promotions, they do joint book promotions, they do giveaways on Book Funnel and InstaFreebie, you know? And you don’t even have to be a member of InstaFreebie to do those joint promotions, you know, people that are already members can invite you and they have so many free memberships that they can, you know, free invites that they can invite you along to take part in these giveaways. So, there’s lots of collaboration opportunities and I think using social media to be social, to kind of find your group and then niche to work within, is another thing that I want to do more of this year.
Michael: Alright, well those goals are out there. They’re public now, everyone listening, you’ve got to hold us to them. So, we’re going to go back to them and we’ll obviously reference them throughout the year but, you know, using the podcast to be accountable and like Jay said, we would love to hear everyone else’s goals for the year, so feel free to post those on the ALLi website and we would love to review those and look back fondly on 2018 when 2019 rolls around.
So, Jay and I talked a little bit about what we want to cover for 2018 and we’ve got our own ideas on what we want to cover and naturally we’ve been doing this for a few years and there’s no shortage of topics but we really want to hear from everyone listening to the show, what do you want us to cover in 2018? If you are writing a book or if you’ve only got one book out, what is the most important thing in your world right now? What is it that you, if you only had the answer to this, you feel like you could get over your next barrier? And we want to hear from you because that will help guild us throughout the rest of the year and in terms of what we cover, what we don’t cover, if there are things that you don’t want us to cover, you know, certainly put that on there as well.
So, that’s our question of the month, what do you want us to cover in 2018? You can drop us a comment on the show summary page at www.selfpublishingadvice.org. If enough people comment, they’ll also be able to hear what other people are saying, which is always a helpful learning opportunity.
And as we mentioned before, our topic for the coming month is setting up your author website. So, we’ll be talking through the basic fundamentals of some things that you should be thinking about when you’re setting up your website, some of the core fundamentals that should be on every author website and also some of the major missteps that authors can make when they’re setting up their website. So, that’s going to be a jam packed episode so, be sure you tune in and don’t miss that.
And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, we encourage you to leave a review on your podcast network of choice as that helps us find more great listeners like you and it also helps the other shows on our ALLi podcast network. So, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next month. Happy writing Jay.
Jay: And to you, thank you very much Michael.
Meet your AskALLi Podcast Show Hosts
Jay Artale is a project manager who swapped corporate life for a nomadic existence as a non-fiction writer. She’s the author of travel and travel writing guides, and poetry collections.
Jay is also one of the co-organizers of the Indie Author Fringe, a 3X a year online conference for indie authors who self-publish.
Connect on Twitter: @BirdsOAFPress
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 science fiction & fantasy novels and author self-help books. To date, he has published over 1.5 million words of fiction and nonfiction. Since publishing his first book in 2014, he has produced a prolific writing portfolio while raising a family and working a full-time job in the insurance industry.
Connect on Twitter: @MichaelLaRonn
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