CNN’s Marketing Fail…

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

(…Or, A Major Multinational News Service Inexplicably Obfuscates its Intention of Advancing Understanding of Innovative Consumer Interaction Restructuring.)

So I just read Erik Wemple’s article about CNN’s Redesign and was struck, as he was, by the God awful marketing speak CNN used to describe the redesign. However, as is so often the case, we can learn more from failure than success. The redesign itself was, of course, intended to facilitate access from a wide range of devices, incorporate social sharing and encourage engagement. By all appearances, the redesign accomplishes these tasks. The descriptions of the changes to the site, however, leave a lot to be desired.

The descriptions were littered with nigh meaningless phrases, such as “seamless integration,” “total re-platforming,” and “automatically re-optimizes.” Yes, Strunk and White are rolling over in their graves. Clarity is the heart of good communication, and phrases like these – common as they have become – are the enemy of clarity. What is worse is these phrases defeat the purpose the redesign they attempt to describe.

CNN’s site modifications/upgrades improve the user’s experience. The changes make it easier to share, easier to discover, and easier to access. So, one might ask, why employ language that is more appropriate to a political cover-up than a renovation that should generate increased traffic? After all, that is the holy grail of online news reporting.

There is no way to know for sure exactly what the point was, unless it was an attempt to make the changes sound more impressive. It might be that simple. There is a lesson to be learned from this failure, though. When it comes to marketing yourself, your site, or your product, keep it straightforward.

Trying to bury the purpose of your marketing in obscure language not only insults your audience, it undermines your marketing efforts. If I’m trying to encourage people to buy my new novel in eBook format, I don’t call it “an opportunity to invest in a re-optimized version of an entertainment experience that seamlessly integrates with ereaders.” I say, “Get your copy of Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel, available for Kindle.” (Achievement Unlocked: Shameless Self-Promotion)

The second version of that statement doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a pitch, albeit a short one best used on Twitter. Maybe someone clicks on the link, maybe they don’t, but no one is left scratching their head. If they do click, it’s because they understand exactly what they’re getting into. What CNN did was try to reinvent a wheel that already worked. In doing so, they confused rather than clarified and, by proxy, undermined good communication.

If you want your marketing to work, deliberately forego utilizing needlessly complex linguistic machinations. I mean, embrace clarity.

8 Steps for Getting Amazon to Send Customers an eBook Update Email

ereader screen with text

photo credit: Andrew Mason via photopin cc

If you’re like me, you occasionally revisit your kindle content. You probably find errors that need to be repaired or you want to add content to the eBook, such as preview chapters for a new book. While the process to for making changes to the content is pretty straightforward, getting Amazon to send out an update email is less straightforward.

Amazon offers some instructions for it, but they aren’t exactly clear as glass. To begin with, while the update to the content is more or less or less automatic (assuming no critical errors in the file), that’s all that happens. New customers get the updated version of the file, but anyone who bought it before the update is still wandering around with the old version.

To get Amazon to send out an update, you need to inform them that you’ve made the change. This isn’t straightforward either. Here’s the steps you’ll need to take to make this happen.

  1. Go the instruction page
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of that page where you’ll see a “Contact Us” button to the left.

It looks like this: Amazon Contact Button

  1. That will take you to a menu that looks like this:

Amazon contact menu

(Unfortunately, there is no update email option, so you have to gamble a bit here.)

  1. I recommend selecting the Publish Your Book option and selecting the Corrections tab. It should look something like this:

Corrections option

  1. Fill out the subject line with something along these lines: “Requesting Customer Update Email”
  2. Enter the details in the box below
  3. Be sure to include salient information, including the title or ASIN number and the major changes you made to the book
  4. Send

It’s important to note that this process is not a guarantee. Amazon determines whether or not the changes you made constitute a “major” or “minor” change. Major changes result in a customer update email. Minor changes do not.

Assuming Amazon does send out an email, it can serve as an excellent way to draw reader attention back to you and your work. You might even pick up some sales for your other work.

Webinars, Writing and Delivering on Your Promises

photo credit: sridgway via photopin cc

photo credit: sridgway via photopin cc

Most of the time, I try to talk directly about things to relate to writing, indie author marketing, branding and so on, but I had an experience watching webinars a couple weeks ago that I want to relate because it’s about delivering on promises. In a roundabout way, though, my experience does relate to the broader topic of writing and marketing because those are also about delivering on promises

So, a couple weeks ago, I watched two webinars. For those of you who aren’t familiar with webinars, they are essentially live webcasts that feature an expert or two speaking on a topic with the aid of slides. One of the webinars I watched was about inbound marketing. The other was about a piece of writing software called Scrivener. The experience of watching these two webinars could not have been further apart.

The inbound marketing webinar, sponsored by Hubspot and featuring marketing expert John Jantsch, was what I would consider a textbook example of how to do a webinar. Jantsch delivered a structured talk with supporting infographics, charts and explanatory slides. He moved smoothly from topic to topic and wrapped up his talk in approximately 42 minutes. For remaining time, Jantsch fielded moderator-selected questions to which he gave very cogent answers.

The Scrivener webinar was hosted by Joel Friedlander. It featured presenter Joseph Michael, the self-styled Scrivener Coach, and a moderator. This webinar was, by most measures, a hot mess. The purported purpose of the webinar was to show people how to write in Scrivener and then export files into ebook formats…effortlessly.

From the outset, it was clear that this webinar was being delivered off the cuff, with minimal preparation or thought given to structuring the content for maximum value. They lost a lot of valuable time bouncing control of the screen between the presenters. The content itself came across as a tour of features that the presenters liked, rather than the promised tutorial.

A major low point for me came when one of the presenters attempted to walk the other one through a new process for saving research material. While no doubt a valuable tip, it could have been shown to viewers in under 60 seconds, instead several minutes, if they practiced it prior to the live webinar.

By then, I was ready to bail and go do something productive. However, at the beginning of the webinar, they promised that 50 attendees who stayed until the end would get a chance at a free copy of Scrivener. So, I stuck it out. I figured that another 20 minutes for a chance at free software was a small enough price to pay. Only, things didn’t work out quite as advertised…

When the “educational” portion ended and the obligatory product pitch commenced, a standard feature of webinars, we found out that the only way to get a “free” copy of Scrivener was to sign up for a $497 training program cost.

For my money, saying viewers can get a free copy of something, as a stand-alone statement, implies the free item is a no-strings inducement to stay until the end. What happened was more like getting promised a free Blu-ray player for showing up at car dealership’s event and finding out you need to buy a car to get the Blu-ray player. Maybe it’s not precisely illegal, but it’s not ethical.

The Scrivener webinar failed to deliver on all of its promises. It didn’t show me how to do anything on Scrivener effortlessly. Even listening to the presentation was an effort in trying to discern meaning. It barely discussed, let alone provided a walk-through, of exporting a file as an ebook in any format. Finally, it failed to deliver the promised 50 free copies of scrivener to attendees who endured the whole webinar.

Those failures, particularly the shady advertising, turned me off to any future webinars by Joel Friedlander and Michael Joseph, but also guaranteed that I’ll never buy anything from either one of them. If they play that fast and loose with potential customers, I can’t imagine how they treat actual customers.

All of which brings me around to writing and indie author marketing. All writing, and all forms of content when you get down to it, serves a purpose. We identify the purpose with titles, tags, and category descriptions. We identify fiction and non-fiction and, when people see such identifiers, they expect the content to conform to that.

When I say that my Sam Branch novels are contemporary fantasy with a dose of action-adventure, I’m making a promise. People who read my books know that I deliver on that promise. The books are contemporary, fantasy, and deliver action-adventure. I also like to believe they deliver good writing, but that’s always debatable.

Whether as a writer, someone producing YouTube videos, or someone offering a webinar, we should take those promises seriously. Building audience trust takes time, but one bad experience can destroy that trust forever. The Hubspot webinar promised to discuss inbound marketing and it delivered an in depth and detailed discussion. I’d absolutely roll the dice on another Hubspot webinar. The Scrivener webinar promised much and delivered almost none of it. I won’t be wasting my time with them again.

Stephen Colbert’s Twitter Crisis and Personal Brand Management

photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

If you haven’t heard, Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” recently became embroiled in an apparent racism controversy that started on Twitter. This situation serves as an object lesson for us all in the importance of personal brand management. If you aren’t up to speed on the controversy, here are the highlights.

On the March 27, 2014 episode of “The Colbert Report,” they ran a segment mocking the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. The letter written about the foundation by Dan Snyder, the Redskins’ owner, reads like a Johnny-come-lately attempt to feign cultural sensitivity and whitewash 80+ years of stereotype perpetuation.

Colbert, whose show revels in the satirical, suggested that he too should start a charity based around a character named Ching-Chong Ding-Dong (played by Colbert himself) that caricatures Asian stereotypes. Colbert’s proposed charity would be named “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

After the show aired, a now-deleted tweet appeared on the @ColbertReport account, the official account for the show. The tweet read, “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Unlike the actual show segment, the apparently racist tweet sparked a furious backlash on Twitter. Those outraged by the tweet employed the hashtag #CancelColbert to signal their discontent. Needless to say, careers in entertainment have been derailed by less and Colbert distanced himself from the tweet on his personal twitter account.

In a shocking show of accountability, Comedy Central announced that the @ColbertReport Twitter account is not managed by either Stephen Colbert or his team, but is a corporate account. (Update: The @ColbertReport twitter account has been deleted.) While some people will read that as Comedy Central doing spin control for a popular show, it’s not just possible, but quite likely that Colbert has nothing to do with that account.

Marketing departments frequently take responsibility for creating Facebook posts and Twitter content. What happened here is that someone in Comedy Central’s marketing department was asleep at the wheel, took an inflammatory line out of context, and flung it out into the digital ether.

So what can we all learn from this from this about personal brand management? When Colbert signed on with Comedy Central, he gave up a certain amount of control over his personal brand. To some extent, we all do this when we outsource. What Colbert didn’t do is something that businesses do on a regular basis. He didn’t insist that people posting in his name understand his voice and his brand.

Colbert’s core audience isn’t going to abandon him and his detractors already hate him. So he doesn’t gain or lose with either of those groups. Where this brand management failure is going to hurt him is with the people who might have started watching, but won’t because of this incident. Some might claim that those people should fact check first. Should they? Probably, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is that many, perhaps most, of them won’t fact check. They’ll assume the racist accusation is true and store it as a heuristic for all things Stephen Colbert.

Colbert’s personal brand is, in some ways, forever tarnished by something over which he had no direct input. The same thing can happen to any of us. The lesson to be learned from this is that your brand is fragile and keeping control of it is vital. If you do use an assistant to ghostwrite and post to your blog, or outsource tweets and Facebook updates, check their work. Make sure they genuinely understand your voice and the values on which you build your personal brand. As Colbert’s Twitter crisis shows us, it only takes one wrong move to ignite a firestorm.



A Pre-Release Marketing Mistake

photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

Timing is everything, so the saying goes, and I’ve learned that lesson recently in the pre-release phase of my new novel.

A while back, I promised a short story/prelude to the novel around the end of February/early March. Just as importantly, I delivered. What I wasn’t anticipating is that the short story ramped up some serious excitement among some Sam Branch fans.

Here’s the problem…that excitement, while terrific, came too soon.

The novel isn’t ready for release. It’s not even close to ready for release. I’m just about ready to start on my first serious post-writing read through. As other novelists know, that is a time-intensive process that can take weeks, if the novel is really clean, and months, if the novel needs a lot work. Even in an ideal situation, the new novel probably won’t go live until sometime in May or June.

So, while I felt personally good about releasing that short story when I did, because I said I was going to, it was a mistake from a marketing standpoint. I should have waited until I was no more than a month out from publication to release the story. If I had, it would have whetted the appetites of the fans and helped to build momentum for when the book does go live.

Instead, I’ve run the risk of annoying those fans with a long wait until they can read the book. As mistakes go, it’s probably minor, but it’s a still a mistake that I intend to learn from and one I hope you avoid.

More Author Branding Tips – Leverage Shamelessness


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While there are a number of technical, logistical and strategic things that go into developing an author brand, there are some fairly straightforward, though unpleasant, things that go into it as well. This week, we’ll cover a few of the more unpleasant ones.

Be Shameless

Yes, I know, most writers are introverts. I also know that pitching friends and family, people who are more or less obligated to feign interest, can be psychologically taxing. Pitching strangers on your work can be downright traumatic. In the end, though, as Machiavelli notes, fortune favors the bold.  In the long run, the worst thing you really face is the prospect that someone won’t be interested. Is that unpleasant? It sure is. Will it kill you? No, despite all that irrational screaming from your subconscious, it will not turn out to be fatal. Creating awareness is a critical step in building any brand and awareness building means you need to engage in some shameless self-promotion.

Places To Be Shameless

Talk to local bookstores and see if they’ll carry your book or, better yet, let you do a reading/signing AND carry your book. Talk to your local library about carrying your book and doing a reading or signing. Offer to give a talk to local writers groups about some element of writing and bring along a couple copies of your books. Is there a coffee shop near you that also sells books? Maybe they would be willing to host an event for you and let you leave a couple copies on the shelf. Got invited to a party? Go and steadfastly talk to everyone. When you get asked what you do, tell them you’re a novelist or an author. 9 times out of 10, they’ll ask about your book.

How To Be Shameless, but Not Obnoxious

When it comes to places like libraries, bookstores and other businesses, you should be straightforward about what you’re after from them. Like everyone else, the owner, manager or staff person who makes the decisions about those things has other duties and their time is valuable. Don’t waste it. If they’re unreceptive, thank them for their time and let it go. Trying to convince someone to let you hold an event or carry your books when don’t want to will be more trouble than it’s worth. When it comes to new people in social settings, wait for the conversation to turn toward work. Don’t worry, conversations with new people almost always turn to work. People spend so much of their lives doing their jobs that it becomes a go-to topic. It’s something they’re comfortable talking about and that they know a lot about. When it’s your turn, it’s a perfect segue to talk about your book. As a rule, it’s bad form and horribly off-putting to just walk up to someone and start pitching your book to them. It’s the interpersonal equivalent of a telemarketing call at dinnertime. Don’t do it.

Paid Book Marketing, Is It Worth It? (Link Roundup)


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Authors of all stripes confront an inevitable question at some point: Should I use paid book marketing? It’s a serious question with a lot of unclear answers. While I’ll leave it to the links below to let you explore the bigger, public conversation on this topic, I’ll offer a few thoughts.

Marketing is complicated and, most of the time, cookie cutter “systems” can’t deliver on their promises. By nature, systems function on churning out sameness and the best marketing leverages uniqueness. No marketer can ever guarantee a fixed number or percentage increase of sales. Any marketer that does make these kinds of guarantees is lying to himself or herself, lying to you, or filled with a dangerous kind of hubris. Never spend money on marketing that you can’t afford to lose, because most marketing takes time to show a return on investment (if it ever does show a return on investment.) With that said, on to the link roundup.

Should Indie Authors Pay for Book Reviews?

Book Marketing Services, Are They Worth It?

Book Marketing Using Paid Promotions: Targeted Email Lists

Paid Book Marketing: Should Authors Bother?

Book Marketing Methods That Don’t Work

Paid Book Promotion – Yes It’s Necessary, But Beware

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on or experiences with paid book marketing.

Do 1000 True Fans Make You A Living?

Lately I’ve been seeing talk about this idea that being able to make a living as an independent writer, artist, musician or insert your creative craft here _____ hinges on achieving a magical number of “true fans.” The number that crops up most often is 1000. Kevin Kelly talks about this idea pretty extensively in a Technium post here and Copyblogger’s Brian Clark also takes a swing at the idea here. The basic notion behind the hypothesis is that a true fan will buy the vast majority of what you produce directly, as well as any related merchandise, to the tune of some guesstimated figure. If you do as Kelly does and put that figure at $100 per year/per true fan, you get annual gross earnings of $100,000. In other words, you can make a living without achieving some kind superstardom.

The true fan hypothesis can be equated to ideas like micro-patronage that drive websites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and BandCamp. The runaway success of a handful of projects and the surprisingly high number of projects that at least hit minimum funding goals on these sites seems to support this idea. Yet, as Kelly details in much less frequently discussed posts here and here, there seems to be a distinct lack of real world evidence to support the 1000 true fans idea, which jives with my intuition about the hypothesis.

One of the problems I see with this idea relates a problem I discussed with the idea of essentially purchasing exposure on blogs with guest posts and giveaways here. The problem, of course, is time. True fans are fans that you interact with regularly in person, by email or via social media. Granted, you don’t interact with every fan every day, but you’re going to have to devote a lot of time to interacting with a lot of fans; a problem musician Robert Rich discusses. Time is probably the single most valuable resource creative types possess, aside from the actual skill set they use in creating. Time is also finite and not fungible.

All of this brings to mind Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird. In it Godin discusses how marketers have to adapt to the slow collapse of mass marketing as a strategy and he predicts future success will depend on marketing to niches. His contention seems to be that eventually, all businesses will be looking for their true fans as their primary source of income. Yet, as someone who reads and writes a fair bit about marketing, I’m inclined to think that even if Godin’s prediction pans out, the niches he discusses are not niches composed of 1000 people. I think he probably means niches composed of 100,000 or 1,000,000 people. Compared to a 6 billion-plus global population, those are tiny niches. For the purposes of marketing, though, you can’t use a true fan strategy to capture a market share that size.

Even for an individual creator looking to secure a livable annual income, I don’t think the true fan strategy can be your only or even your main strategy. I think you should make it a point to develop true fan relationships, but you should develop them with what marketers call influencers. For creative types, these are bloggers, reviewers, Facebook personalities or Twitter personalities that hold sway with the niche market you’re trying to capture. For the rank and file fans you hope to develop, those who can be more or less counted on to pick up a copy of your new book or album most of the time, you still need some level of more traditional marketing. It should be much smaller scale to reflect the smaller size of your intended market, but, in my opinion, you cannot be replaced those marketing techniques by securing 1000 true fans.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about the 1000 true fans approach.

Relationships versus Transactions

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post for another site where I set out some strategies for indie authors to improve their odds of securing reviews for their books. (You can read the post here.) One of suggestions I made was to develop relationships with reviewers. This suggestion was met with a comment that suggested authors should essentially buy space on review sites by providing books to give away, doing guest posts and so on. I should say that I am confident that this approach works, at least some of the time, but it sits wrong in my gut. I just wasn’t entirely sure why until I read Michael Port’s book, Book Yourself Solid.

While the book is aimed at service providers, Port’s entire strategy for getting booked solid is built on the foundation of developing relationships with potential clients, with other service providers, and even with your existing clients. He essentially argues that much of business relies too heavily on the idea of transactions, which are fundamentally one-time events. Relationships, on the other hand, are more likely to result in an ongoing exchange that both parties find valuable. Buying exposure on a book review site seems to me to focus too much on the transaction between reviewer and author, while dismissing the value of a relationship between reviewer and author.

I would be a little put off by someone who wanted me to write a guest post who hadn’t at least read one of my books or spent some time reading my blog first. To make a guest post a cost of entry to even consider reviewing your book strikes me as deeply counterintuitive. In the first place, if I’m effectively paying for exposure with giveaway copies or a guest post, then it only follows that the reviewer has a vested interest in giving me at least a middling, if not great, review, regardless of my skill as a writer. While this may serve me as an exposure seeker and, in the short term, the reviewer/blogger who gets a week off from content generation, it dilutes the credibility of the reviewer.

What if I wrote a bad book? What if I wrote a horrifyingly bad book? If the reviewer scores it well, people will be disappointed or angry or disgusted with the deception. If the reviewer gives it a legitimate review and says it’s awful, then I have no incentive to ever provide this person with a review copy or guest blog again. After all, why would I pay for bad exposure?

Then there are the logistical problems with the transactional model. Let’s say I submit my book to 50 reviewers and 25 accept, on the condition that I provide a guest post. Let’s say that I excel at writing quality blog posts and can write one in an hour. That still means I need to spend 25 hours writing guest posts. That may be a manageable number, but what if 50 or 100 or 150 reviewers accept on that same basis. I’ve basically gone from being a novelist to a full time guest blogger for the foreseeable future, without considering any other marketing actions at all.

The transactional approach is limited by basic time constraints and self-corrupting in its expectation setting. While it may serve a function in getting the marketing ball rolling, I don’t see how it can work as a sustained marketing effort for an indie author.