Posted tagged ‘writing’

Why I blog

8 July 2014

I’ve been blogging for several years now, and a question that continually pops up is why do I do it?

My answer has remained consistent over time.

I blog primarily for myself. I use writing as a vehicle for my thinking. By presenting my thoughts to the world, I need to understand them, and articulate them effectively for others to understand. And if other people learn something from my insights and experiences, then I’m delighted.

The tag line of my blog is provoking deeper thinking. I want us to escape the echo chamber, to use our own brains and come to our own conclusions. To go beyond the obvious and explore the implications. We all have different perspectives, and we operate under different circumstances, so there’s no “one answer” anyway.

Comments are the lifeblood of blogging. I welcome comments from my peers. We don’t even have to agree – in fact the discussion is often richer if we don’t – so long as the interaction is empathetic and mutually respectful. So yes, I invite everyone to add their voice to the conversation.


Tips & tricks for self-publishers – Part 4

12 March 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3 I explained how to self publish a paperback.

Now that your book is available, you will need to inform your customers that it exists. If you’re relying on their extraordinary Google and Amazon search skills to be “discovered”, you’re dreaming. You need to do much more than that to get noticed!

So please find below Part 4 of my series which provides tips on how to ramp up your sales…

Flying money

There are literally hundreds of ways to promote a product. I’m no marketing expert, but here are several tactics that I have found fruitful:

• Tell all your followers on Facebook, Twitter and other forums.
• Create a Facebook page.
• Ask your friends and allies to publish a review.
• If you write a blog, inform your subscribers.
• Add a profile to Google Books.
• Promote VIP discounts with a coupon code.
• Advertise on social media and in specialist magazines.

Another tactic I think is often overlooked is to take advantage of all the bells and whistles on your book’s profile page on Amazon. For example:

• Solicit “likes” and customer reviews.
• Activate Look Inside the Book.
• Upload customer images.
• Add keyword tags.
• Add book extras via Shelfari.
• Create an author page.

My author page on Amazon

This is the final part of my Tips & tricks for self publishers series. I hope you have found the information useful, and I wish you all the best in your quest to publish your own books.

Keep me posted!

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3

27 February 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2 I explained how to self publish an e‑book.

If you’re like me, you’ll now want to create a hard copy – a “real” book. While I am certainly a fan of e-books, I am also a lover of old fashioned page turners. And so are many of your potential customers!

So please find below Part 3 of my series which explains how to self publish a paperback…

Ryan the Lion and E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 in paperback form

I was considering using CreateSpace to create my paperback version of Ryan the Lion because it’s the sister service of Kindle Direct Publishing (the service I used to create the e-book version). I was also thinking about publishing a selection of my blog musings under the title E‑Learning Provocateur: Volume 1.

I was dilly dallying about both when Steven Lewis showed me his newly produced paperback, How to Format Perfect Kindle Books – ironic, eh? I had imagined that books created via CreateSpace would be a bit dinky. In other words, you could just tell that they were home-made. But Steven’s book was nothing like that. It was glossy and colourful and wonderful. I was hooked!

I found CreateSpace really easy to use. All the stages in the process are outlined sequentially, with What’s this? links, how-to guidelines and downloadable templates.

At one stage you will need to choose the size of your book. For Ryan the Lion I picked 6″ x 9″ to mimic my copy of Dr Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!. For E‑Learning Provocateur I picked 5.5″ x 8.5″ to mimic my copy of Seth Godin’s Tribes.

You will also need to make decisions about your interior. Since Ryan the Lion is an illustrated children’s story, I chose full colour on white paper and a 12-point Bookman Old Style typeface. Since E-Learning Provocateur is a text-heavy business book, I chose black & white on cream paper and a 12.5-point Garamond typeface.

Ryan the Lion in full color

I highly recommend using one of the Word templates that CreateSpace provides for the interior (but check the sizes of the pages are actually what they should be).

You will want to make sure that any illustrations you have are hi-res: at least 300 dpi, but higher if possible. I had problems with PNG files (they outputted fuzzy) so you might consider TIF or JPG instead.

Ryan the Lion in Word

When converting to PDF – which CreateSpace requires – check the page size again in the printer settings. I used BullZip’s free PDF Printer; if you do too, I recommend picking “Flate” for your image compression and “Prepress” for the output quality.

When the PDF is produced, check yet again the size of the pages. It’s important to appreciate that PDF is a WYSIWYG technology: What You See Is What You Get. So check the page breaks, page numbering, illustrations, blank pages, everything. What You See Is What You Get.

For the cover, Steven Lewis recommends engaging a professional designer. That’s a good idea, but because I’m familiar with graphic design, I created my own cover with Corel’s astonishingly cheap PaintShop Pro. CreateSpace has pre-designed templates, but I think they’re a bit naff.

Before submitting your work, always use CreateSpace’s preview facility to check again that all is well. You’re probably over it by now, but this last step is well worth it. You’ll be amazed at what you have missed.

Similarly, always order a proof to check the actual product in real life. Ryan the Lion costed me a bit more to produce because it’s full colour, but it was still crazy cheap. If you don’t believe me, read Lifehacker’s piece about a local competitor’s self-publishing service. And you can get your proof shipped to the other side of the world in less than a week.

So like KDP, CreateSpace is effectively free apart from proofing and shipping (and perhaps designing a cover). Again, Amazon sells your book and provides you with a slice of the pie. Because it’s a physical product, the book is printed on demand.

Ryan the Lion paperback on Amazon

So now you know how to self publish a paperback, you are ready for Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 4, in which I’ll provide advice on how to promote your product…

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2

15 February 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 1 I shared with you my insights into old school publishers and literary agents.

Assuming you have received your rejections – or more likely, no replies at all – you will now be ready to stick it up their proverbials and self publish.

So please find below Part 2 of my series which explains how to get started with an e-book…

Ryan the Lion on the Kindle

If you can use Microsoft Word, you can publish an e-book.

I started my foray by turning Ryan the Lion into an e-book via Kindle Direct Publishing (then called Digital Text Platform). I chose KDP for several reasons:

• I trust Amazon (the owner of KDP)
• Kindle (Amazon’s e-reader) has sold in the millions
• My e-book is automatically stocked in the Kindle Store
• My commission percentage is healthy, and
• I retain control over my work (to update it, set its pricing etc).

Oh, and it’s effectively free. Basically, Amazon sells your e-book and provides you with a slice of the pie.

Ryan the Lion ebook on Amazon

A caveat that you should be aware of sooner rather than later is that KDP is Amazon-only. That means your book won’t be stocked in Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, or anywhere else. It also means your e-book will be in Kindle format (not ePub).

To remedy this situation, I concurrently published my e-book through Smashwords. I originally chose Smashwords because of their distribution deal with Apple, but I have since found them to be a pleasure to work with.

Ryan the Lion ebook on Smashwords

Smashwords can publish your e-book in multiple formats: HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub, LRF and PDB. More importantly, however, they can ship your book to multiple retailers: Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Sony Reader Store, Diesel, Kobo, and of course, Amazon.

I opted out of the latter because I had already created my e-book through KDP. I still prefer KDP for Amazon because they accept HTML as the content file, which gives me more control over the structure of the final product. If you aren’t familiar with HTML, you may prefer to forgo KDP for Smashwords.

Strangely, Smashwords doesn’t ship to the Google eBookstore. Nevermind, you can upload an ePub file to Google’s catalogue via their partner program.*

* Well, that’s the theory. I uploaded my ePub several weeks ago but it still hasn’t appeared in the Google eBookstore, despite my validating the file and contacting Google Book Support to resolve the issue. I’m starting to get the feeling it will never appear…

So now you know how to self publish an e-book, you are ready for Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3, in which I’ll explain how to self publish a paperback…

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 1

31 January 2012

Last year, I self published an e-book and two paperbacks.

Since doing so, I have received loads of questions from people about various aspects of the process.

Of course I’m only too happy to help, so please find below Part 1 in a series of tips & tricks for self publishers…

Lady reading at her desk

Old school publishers

If you can get an old school publisher to publish your book for you, I say go for it. They’ve got the production, distribution and marketing capacity that you and I can only dream of. So by all means, send your manuscript to them.

However, unless your name is James Patterson or Patricia Cornwell, your chances of getting picked up are almost nil.

You see, publishers are taking less risks on new talent and instead are sticking to their tried and true cash cows. I think that’s unsustainable and a sure-fire way to run a business into the ground, but that’s another story.

What I’m saying here is: Brace yourself for rejection.

Literary agents

Unfortunately, my experience with literary agents is poor. I found the several whom I tried to deal with to be unprofessional, ineffectual, and consequently irrelevant.

Of course, not all literary agents are like that. I just couldn’t find a good one, so I cut my losses. I figure if you want to work with clowns, join a circus.

Clown feet on a tightrope

Sometimes the only recourse for mere mortals like you and me is to self publish. Luckily, that’s really easy to do on the interwebs.

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2, I’ll show you how…

Swimming against the tide

30 August 2010

Man swimming in the ocean

Swimming against the tide is a dangerous pastime, whether it be real or metaphorical.

That’s a lesson I’m sure Aneel Karnani learned earlier this month when he argued The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility in The Wall Street Journal and the MIT Sloan Management Review.

How dare this associate professor challenge the weight of public opinion!

Many of the comments he attracted in response to his article were patronising, sarcastic, insulting or downright nasty.

We all think we’re professional, we all think we’re collaborative, but this real-life example shows that clearly we’re not.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t actually agree with Karnani’s position. However, I’m mature enough to recognise the truths in his argument – even if I don’t like them.

So I salute Aneel Karnani for speaking his mind and provoking thought and debate. Perhaps the case for corporate social responsibility will be bolstered as a result.

In the meantime, I think we should all take a deep breath and remember that if we all bow to popular opinion, we’ll never evolve our ideas.

Let’s welcome contrarian views and discuss their merits – minus the agro.

My 4 pillars of blogging

20 April 2010

I have been blogging for some time now, and I can honestly say that it’s been a growth journey.

I started blogging primarily for myself – essentially to organise and articulate the thoughts in my own head. If others were to draw anything useful from that, well that’s a bonus.

Guiding principles

Recently, a few people have been asking me for blogging advice, mainly around getting started. This got me thinking…

What are my guiding principles for blogging?

I believe blogging is about being honest with yourself, so what values or standards to I hold myself to?

After a period of deep reflection, four overarching themes shone through. I call these my 4 pillars of blogging.

1. Be bold

This is the advice that Wikipedia gives to its contributors, and I love it!

There’s no room for shrinking violets on the Internet.

If you’ve got an opinion, let’s hear it. It’s just as valid as anyone else’s.


2. Add something new

There’s no point being an echo chamber. Thousands of other bloggers are happily doing that.

Your blog should build the collective knowledge bank, not merely repeat it.

If you want to write about a particular topic – even a popular one – go for it. Just find your unique angle: Maybe an aspect no one else considered? Perhaps an insight based on your personal experience?


3. Challenge your own content

After you’ve written something, challenge its accuracy.

Did someone report supporting evidence in the academic literature? Have you seen it with your own eyes? Or is it just your opinion?

If it’s the latter, that’s fine – just make it transparent.

You’ll be surprised how many bloggers dress their opinions as fact.


4. Formulate a 1-liner

If you can’t summarise your blog post into a single sentence, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about.

Take a step back, reflect on the key message you are trying to convey, and maybe jot down some bullet points.

Then distill that into a 1-liner.

You might even use it as your opening line.


Let it flow

While the 4 pillars provide a useful framework for blogging, please don’t take them too seriously.

For me, a blog post isn’t meant to be a lab report or a journal article. In contrast, it’s a forum for free thought – something very rare in this fast paced, time poor, ultra standardised world.

I typically germinate my blog posts with a central idea, then I start writing off the cuff. Only after I have some sense of the body do I apply the 4 pillars retrospectively and tighten up the prose.

Have a go

If you already write a blog, I hope my advice helps you.

If you don’t yet write a blog but are thinking about it, I say to you in true Aussie style: “Have a go!”

You will embark on a journey of growth not only as a person, but also as a thought leader.