5 Ways to Use a Newsletter Without a Website

In this post, I’ll share 5 ways that you can use your email list even if you don’t have a website. Getting a site up and running can be a daunting and expensive prospect (though it doesn’t have to be), and you might feel like you can’t do anything until you have a website up. There is still a lot you can do right now to start building your list and creating relationships with your followers.

1. Add a signature sign up

Add a link to signup in your email signature. For example, my signature could say:

“Thanks,
Joseph Hinson, Out:think Group

PS: Are you interested in what makes a platform great? Sign up for my weekly updates to find out just that.”

The language that I used there is compelling – it piques curiosity, lets them know why the newsletter would be valuable to them, and gives an idea of how often it will be sent and what the subject matter will be.

2. Build anticipation

Post an update on your social media just before you send out an email. Tell your followers, “Hey guys, I’m going to send an email out tomorrow, where I talk about the importance of  –––––– ,” or, “I’m going to tell you the story of how I ––––––––.”

Let people know you’re going to send the newsletter to build anticipation, and include in the post a call to action to sign up for the newsletter. People who follow you on Twitter/Facebook/etc., may not be subscribed to your email list yet.

3. Share the email content across channels

After the email goes out, post a link to the email archive on your social channels. Once you have a website, you’ll want to post the email content on your blog, but this is a good option in the meantime.

Copy the email archive link from your email system (the link you get when you click “view email in your browser”), and you’ll be able to re-share your content by posting the link across your social channels. The benefit here is two-fold:

  1. You’ve already put in the work of creating that content so it’s an easy win to post as social media content, and,
  2. Keep in mind that not everyone follows you on every channel – your Facebook/Twitter/etc. followers might not be on your email list and wouldn’t see that content otherwise.

4. Ask Questions

Make use of your social networks, friends, fans, colleagues, and anybody you have a connection with by asking questions to get them involved.

Post or email and say, “I’m going to be answering questions about this subject,” or “next week’s email is going to be about this specific topic,” or, “I’m writing a research project on this topic and I’m looking for people who have had this experience.”

A good example of this is podcasters – many do this when they’re covering a new topic. They’ll post on social media to say, for example, “We’re talking about people who have been ripped off, and we’d love your stories. Submit your stores.” Those submitted stories are shared on the next episode, and they might even call and interview people who submitted stories.

This can be a great source for of varied, colorful content that you wouldn’t have had otherwise, and it’s a great way to create conversations and interactions with your followers.

5. Create a Twitter card

If you use Twitter, create a Twitter lead generation card and pin it to the top of your profile.

Whenever you’re about to send a newsletter, you want to Tweet out that Twitter card. When you’re doing your teaser on social media, use a Twitter card to enhance that.

Example of a Twitter lead generation card

Example of a Twitter lead generation card

If you’re using MailChimp, you can create a twitter card that will let Twitter users subscribe with just one click, without having to enter their email address. When they click the “Sign me up” button they are automatically added based on the email address used for their Twitter account.

Conclusion

These are some really useful ways to get started with your email list, right now – even if you don’t have a website. Don’t think think that you have to wait until every piece is in place, because there is a lot you can be doing to get traction and build a relationship with your followers.

Ultimately, you will still need to create a website because it’s a vital part of a robust author platform. Building a site isn’t as complicated as people make it out to be, and in future posts we’ll talk about some easy and approachable ways to build your site.

An Author’s Most Important Marketing Tool

An Author's Most Important Marketing Tool

Getting started with your author platform can be daunting. There’s so much to get together – a website, social media accounts, branding, outreach – and it can overwhelm you quickly. Today, I want to tell you about the most important asset in your tool box. This is the one you need to start with.

Are you ready?

It’s an email list.

An email list is not only your most important tool, it’s valuable for the duration of your career. Having a newsletter allows you to begin and sustain a long-lasting conversation with your fans and followers. That relationship can continue no matter how your subject matter changes. Readers want to connect with authors because they’re fans, and an email list is a good way to stay connected in a busy world filled with tons of distractions.

But… what about social media?!

Social media has its place, and we’ll get to that in the future, but if you have to focus on ONE thing right now, it should be building your newsletter. Social media platforms reserve the right to change the rules at any time – an email list is a long-term investment that you own.

Here are some simple reasons you should have a mailing list:

1) You don’t lose the lead.

When a visitor comes to your website, that’s great! But what if they don’t come back again? They’ll never know if you are writing a new book, won’t know about the great article wrote, or that you’re at an event in their town. Having an email list allows you to not only reach out to them directly, but also find out more about your fans – which books they purchased, what their interests are and more.

2) You can have a more meaningful conversation.

Shortly after college, I worked at a sign shop. In that industry, we used the “3 seconds of visibility” rule of thumb. You only had 3 seconds to get your message across with a sign, which meant we couldn’t be too wordy.

The same rule applies for the web. You may have a little more time, but an average of 10-20 seconds1 with a visitor is still an incredibly small window. A newsletter allows you to go into more detail; it’s a format people are expecting to spend more time reading.

Consider your own experience. When you visit a website, are you reading every word, or just scanning for the information you’re looking for? Now think about your email. You’re expecting to read… if you’re like me, you might even grab your glasses.

3) You can interact directly with your subscribers.

All of the emails I sent come from me – joseph@outthinkgroup.com. That means you can reply directly to that email, and I’ll get it. Your response will land in my inbox, and now the conversation goes from one to many, to one-to-one. Now we’re talking in person. A newsletter gives you that opportunity.

4) You own the list.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ can and will change their platform at any given time, making it more difficult to reach your fans and followers through those channels. As you grow an email list, you’re growing a list of people who have raised their hands and opted in to you and your writing. The email list you grow is yours to keep. Forever.

5) Your list will support your career.

No matter what you’re working on now, whether you’re writing a book, or you’re just passionate about a topic and want to share it with others, the connections you make with people through your newsletter are an investment in your future. Whatever path you take, you get to take those fans with you.

Remember, this is about creating long lasting connections with your fans and followers. An email list is the best way to tell your story, spread your message, and, in the end, sustain a career.


1. “How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?Nielsen Norman Group

What is a platform?

What is aplatform-

Your platform is how you sell books.

Here are three important components that make up a platform. They are your Authority, Network, and Influence.

Let’s break that down a bit.

Authority (or story) is why people should listen to you. The question you must answer here is, “Why should people care about what you have to say?”. Maybe you’re a researcher and you have spent years studying human behavior, or you consult with organizations and have years of experience under your belt. This often includes your experience, but maybe you’re launching something new. If that’s the case, you highlight what makes you different, then seek to grow your legitimacy by building relationships with other influencers in your specific space. Keep in mind that at the core of this, it’s WHY others should listen to you. When Dave Ramsey (see DaveRamsey.com) started, he was a guy who had gone bankrupt, crawled out of that, and desperately wanted to help people establish long-term financial stability, but what he started with was a story.

What is your story? Why should people listen to you?

Network is the amount of people you can mobilize. This would include your social media followers, email subscribers, friends, family and colleagues. The size of your network enables your message to spread faster and more broadly, which is why this is one key metric. But keep in mind that quality matters too. Maybe your network is small, but consists of friends that are influential.

Who do you know who can help you grow your network?

Influence is the pull you have with others. The more you grow your fans and followers in a meaningful way, the more influence you have. Consider for a moment Michael Hyatt, who has over 615,597 subscribers to his newsletter. Michael’s influence has value because others want his help becoming more influential. This allows him to diversify the types of things he does with his portfolio to include affiliations with others. When your network and influence reach a certain size, your platform becomes a powerful tool, not only for you, but for those whose careers you want to support.

What is your relationship with your network like?

So, where do you start?

If you’re currently at ground zero, remember, you have to start somewhere. Fear says, “You’ll never be able to do it. And even if you do, it will end in failure.” Don’t be overwhelmed and discouraged by fear. Think about these three terms and how they apply to you, and start picturing the platform you want to build.

Let me leave you with this. What would your life look like if you could build a platform that supports your entire career; a platform that allows you to build your business and change your future? This is an adventure, so treat it like one, and share it with others.

How are you sharing your adventure with your followers?

Argh! I need help!

A while back, I came up against a pretty big issue in my business.

It was something that had to be taken care of, but I kept putting off solving it.

The reason I kept putting it off, was because I didn’t know what to do.

And the reason I didn’t know what to do, was because I wouldn’t ask for help.

I was surrounded by people who had both the knowledge and the willingness to help me. Yet I was stuck in my problem, because I wasn’t willing to admit the embarrassing truth that I didn’t know what I was doing, and desperately needed help.

And here’s what’s crazy: When I finally opened my mouth and asked for help, I received it immediately.

This problem, this thing that had been plaguing my mind with worry and stress for so long, was cleared up within a few days.

And the person I asked for help from . . . Did he judge me? Look down on me? Make me feel stupid?

Quite the opposite. He was happy to help and thanked me for the opportunity.

How many times does this happen to us?

How many times do we sit alone in our worry and stress, when help is right at our fingertips?

When I think back to the greatest leaps forward I’ve made — in my personal life, in writing and in business, I find that they’ve always come after I’ve asked someone for help.

I finally wrote my first novel after I asked for help from a writing coach.

I finally started building a successful business after I asked a friend to be my business coach.

I finally finished my first nonfiction book after I asked friends to give me feedback that would help me improve it.

I finally started dealing with my personal issues after I allowed personal mentors and counselors to offer me their wisdom.

I now realize that every major milestone I’ve ever reached was kicked off by my finally getting humble enough to admit I needed help.

Why does asking for help work so well?

What is it about this simple act that makes it so powerful?

Here’s what I think it does for us:

1. We stop struggling.

There is something magical in the simple act of ceasing to strive, of sitting down and saying, “I can’t do this.” I recently found a great illustration of this.

A few years ago, the scientist Ádám Miklósi did a study comparing the behavior of wolves and dogs. He and his colleagues gave a group of domesticated wolves and a group of dogs a complicated problem to solve in order to get to access to some food.

Both the wolves and the dogs solved the problem pretty quickly.

Then the scientists gave the animals a challenge that looked exactly the same as the first problem, but was impossible to solve. The wolves kept going round and round the problem, trying different things.

No matter how many times it didn’t work, they kept trying to go it on their own, despite the fact that there was a human there who could help them.

However, the dogs, once they realized they couldn’t do it on their own, looked to the human for help, and received help.[1]

When we come up against a problem we can’t solve, we have to give up the useless struggle of trying to do it all on our own, before we can move forward.

2. We begin to solve the problem just by describing it to someone else.

In computer programming, there’s an idea known as “rubber ducking” that comes from the fantastic book The Pragmatic Programmer.

The authors found a simple but very useful technique for finding the cause of a problem: Explain it to someone else.

As the other person concentrates on what you’re saying, they look at the problem with you, nodding their head as you speak (like a rubber duck bobbing up and down in a bathtub).

They don’t need to say a word; the simple act of explaining, step by step, what should be happening but isn’t, is often enough for the root of the problem to leap up and announce itself.[2]

How many times have you figured something out simply by describing the problem to someone else?

I often find that by the time I finish describing a situation out loud to someone, I’ve already figured out what I need to do.

Sometimes there are too many loose threads of ideas in our heads. It’s impossible to keep track of it all, so we start to feel overwhelmed.

When we finally sit down and say everything out loud, we’re able to sort through those threads, throw out the useless ones, tie the useful ones together, and come up with something that can help us move forward.

3. We get an outsider’s insight.

Up until now, you might have been tempted to think you could manage nearly everything about being a writer on your own.

But the real value comes from getting outside help. We all need each other. We all have different types of expertise, in different areas.

The friend who helped me solve the big issue in my business immediately gave me a short book to read, connected me with a company that could help me, then personally walked me through the solution process.

When I was flailing with the second draft of Your First 1000 Copies, I sent it to a good friend and she personally walked me through eight pages of notes on how to make it a better book.

When I’ve struggled in my marriage, I’ve sought out counsel from men who have had long, wonderful marriages.

Finding someone who can help with your particular problem, whatever it is, can save you years of frustration and heartache.

Personal Embarrassment vs. Professional Embarrassment

Of course, the biggest battle we face in asking for help is dealing with our own pride.

Oh, how we hate to admit we don’t know what we’re doing! Especially in a space where we feel like we should know what we are doing.

But the truth is, when we don’t ask for help, we’re only holding out for worse embarrassment down the road — on a bigger scale.

Now when I send an early draft of a book to friends for feedback, I tell them, “Please be brutally honest. I’d rather hear it privately from you than publicly from strangers on Amazon.”

No matter what kind of problem you’re facing, there are people who have walked that road ahead of you and are willing to help you along the way.

Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and ask for help.

That breakthrough you’ve been waiting for is right around the corner.


  1. Miklósi, Adám (2003). A Simple Reason for a Big Difference: Wolves Do Not Look Back at Humans, but Dogs Do. Current Biology, Volume 13, Issue 9, 29 April 2003, Pages 763–766.  ↩
  2. Hunt, Andrew and Thomas, David (1999–10–20). The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master (Kindle Locations 1859–1865). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.  ↩

 

Solving the “What do I write about?” problem

By far, the question I get most often from writers looking to build their platform is “What do I blog and email about?”

I especially hear this from fiction writers.

They’ll ask, “I’m a young-adult fantasy author. What do I write about on my blog? I can’t help people make more money or lose weight. So what can I do?”

Or, “I just have one historical novel out. What am I supposed to write about? Just keep telling people to buy my book? I can’t do that!”

In this article, I’m going to solve that dilemma for you.

First, deeply embedded in most of these questions are a few unconscious lies that authors tell themselves:

  • Lie #1: My book is the only interesting thing about me. That’s a much too narrow view of what you have to offer the people who are coming to your platform.
  • Lie #2: People are only interested in reading practical, self-help stuff. Look at the tremendous amount of online content that is not practical. There’s far more entertainment-based content online than there are business tips and weight-loss guides.
  • Lie #3: My books don’t really help people. This is the big one. So many fiction writers don’t really believe that what they do is good and helpful for people.

I’m going to camp out on that last one for a moment.

All good marketing begins with the belief, The best thing people can do for themselves is to buy what I’m selling.[1]

Yet so many authors, especially fiction authors, don’t really believe this deep down.

But you must believe it.

That belief has to be behind everything you do. You have to have it in your bones.

I’m facing that fact right now.

I’m working towards releasing my first novel next month. And if I’m going to successfully promote it, I’ll have to believe that the best thing that you can do is to read a copy of it.

So, tip #1…

Ask yourself, “Do I really believe people will benefit in some way from reading my book?”

I recommend spending some time alone, fully facing that question, before you do anything else.

You are a writer. You got into this for the love of writing. Are you going to share that love once your book is done?

Once you’ve taken this step, everything gets much easier. Then you can answer the next question:

Are we building a platform for your book, or for you?

Whenever somebody asks me about setting up a book website, I encourage them to set up an author website instead.

Your online platform should be for you, the writer, not for your book(s).

Here’s why:

1. You are the one thing that will never change throughout your writing career.

Your genre, series and titles will shift and change over time. But not your name.[2]

One of my longest-standing clients is #1 New York Times bestselling author, Daniel Pink. He has a very strong platform. But if he had tried to build that platform around any one of his books, it would have hurt him in the long run.

His first book, Free Agent Nation, was about the freelancing workforce. Next was The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a career guide disguised as a Japanese comic book.

He then wrote A Whole New Mind about “right-brain” thinkers, Drive about motivation in the workplace, and To Sell Is Human about how we are all in sales.

That’s quite a vast spread of topics! And they don’t really fit together in an obvious way.

The only common denominator in that diverse line of books is the author.

Dan’s platform has grown and shifted with him, while he’s constantly changed his focus and expanded his scope.

His growing readership would have been impossible to create if he had built smaller separate platforms around each of his books instead of one big one around his name.

2. An author-based platform allows people to become fans of you first.

You want people to love your writing and to love your books. But most of all, you want them to be connected to you as the writer of those books.

Look at these covers from recent books by Stephen King, Janet Evanovich and John Grisham:

bookcovers

What’s the most prominent thing on each cover?

People don’t buy a book by their favorite authors because they like the title. They buy it because they connect with the author’s name.

This is why well-known authors are able to switch genres, go in new directions, and have a lot of flexibility in their careers — they’ve built a fan base around their name.

You want to do the same!

I’m experiencing some of this myself right now.

As I’ve talked about the fantasy novel I’m working on, many of you have told me you can’t wait to read it.

Why?

That makes no sense, logically.

All you’ve ever read is my nonfiction writing. Why would you care about my fiction writing when there are already plenty of good, established fiction writers out there?

It’s because many of you have become fans of my work — how I see the world and what I give to my readers — more than any one thing I’ve published.

I’m the same way with many of my favorite writers. I buy whatever they publish, because I already know I’m on their wavelength.

You want your fans to be the same way with you, so they’ll follow you throughout your career, though every turn in the road.

3. Having an author-based platform greatly expands what you can talk about.

This is where we finally dig into the how.

When you focus on building a platform around you instead of your books, it gives you far more room to run with when it comes to finding topics for your blogs, emails and social media posts.

Of course you don’t want to just talk constantly about your book, but that is far from the only interesting thing you have going on.

What have you read lately – both fiction and nonfiction – that you really enjoyed? Ryan Holiday has built an email list of 35,000 subscribers just by sharing his book recommendations every month.

What have you been learning lately?

Have you had to do weapons research for your latest novel? Have you started taking a pottery class?

What interesting life lessons or obscure facts have you learned along the way?

Have you gone to any conferences and met other writers? Could you interview them on your blog? Or reach out to the authors of the books you’re reading and ask to interview them?

Once you open up your mind to the world around you and the life you’re already living, you’ll start to see a vast amount of things you can write about.

I keep a running list of topic ideas as they come to me. The list is always growing much faster than I can possibly keep up with.

You are more than your books. You are an interesting, multi-faceted person, and your books are only the tip of the iceberg.

As you are looking at your platform and asking yourself, “What should I blog, post or email about?” — expand your view of what you have to offer.

Realize that you’re already tapped in to many topics that you can create helpful, interesting content from.

You’ll be surprised at how much you can come up with.


  1. My definition of marketing, given in my book Your First 1000 Copies, is: 1) The act of building long-lasting connections with people and, once you have those connections, 2) focusing on being relentlessly helpful to them.  ↩
  2. This is where the question of multiple pen names comes up. In most cases, I suggest not using different names for your different books, even in different genres. There is usually no legitimate reason to keep your writings separate from each other. If you do have to use separate pen name for some or all of your books, I recommend building a separate platforms based on that pen names, instead of on your book(s). That gives you the most options for your future work.  ↩

The Ultimate Writer’s Guide to Great Productivity

Recently, several readers have asked me how I keep my productivity so high.

How do I get my writing done, build my author platform, and continue to fulfill all the other responsibilities I have as a husband, dad, business owner (and person)?

In this article, I’m going to explain in exact terms how I get a ton of work done each week in a very small amount of time.

Because despite a high level of output, I usually only work about 30 hours a week.

I’m going to give you specific advice on how you can accomplish a huge amount, even if you have limited time each week to work on your writing.

The Framework

For a while now, I’ve had a full-time business to run that keeps me very busy.

When I first started writing, I knew that even though I didn’t have the constraints of a full-time job, I still had to figure out how to get my writing done while meeting the demands of the rest of my life.

Here’s the framework I created. You can use it to build your own productivity plan.

It’s a three-part system that’s simple and easy to use:

  • The Mindset – You must get your thinking straight first.
  • The Schedule – You have to figure out the when before the what.
  • The Plan – You must decide what you’re going to get done, before you start working.

Each part is built upon the one before it, so read all of this information straight through to the end.

The Mindset

As with everything, we have to establish the right mindset before we can start talking about strategy and tactics.

Don’t skip this part. If you think you don’t need to read this section, then you should skip this entire article.

I have some basic productivity beliefs and habits that help me make decisions quickly — and stay sane in the face of a never-ending deluge of To-Do tasks:

1. Ruthlessly cut out all distractions and unproductive actions.

I can get more done in one 30-hour work week than most people get done in a month, because of how I work:

During my writing time, I’m hyper-focused and avoid distractions like the plague.

No social media. No emails. All chat programs turned off. I put on earphones, and put my phone in my bag.

I am ruthless on this point. You need to be too.

2. It’s more about what you don’t do.

There are lots of ways to be active and busy, but very few ways to be active and effective.

It’s extremely important that you learn the difference between busy and effective, and are honest with yourself about it.

Learn what actions are actually moving you toward your goals, and then only work on those items.

3. Figure out your values and goals ahead of time.

A good productivity system organizes only those actions that are built upon your values and goals.

If you don’t know why you’re doing something — finishing your manuscript, building your email list, landing guest posting opportunities, etc. — then you’ll constantly feel frustrated about your life as an author.

I’m going to ask you to do some hard work in this article, and unless you have a solid Why motivating you, you won’t be able to follow through.

If you need help in that area, I go much deeper into that topic in this article.

4. Your productivity system should be simple.

While I can appreciate productivity systems such as Getting Things Done (GTD), most of them are too complicated to apply to real life.

All the successful people I know and work with have very simple systems for tracking their actions and getting things done.

5. I don’t try to be perfect, track everything, or keep everybody happy.

I receive anywhere from 100 to 150 emails a day.

Though I try respond to all of them, it’s inevitable that I’m going to miss an important email every now and again.

I’m also going to forget to do some things, not finish my To Do list for the day, and a commit a few other errors and losses.

I deal with my lack of perfection by accepting it ahead of time, giving myself grace and forgiveness, and moving on.

6. Don’t make excuses.

Some of the things I do, you might not be able to do, but don’t use that as an excuse.

Use your imagination, embrace the principles you can use, and apply them to your situation.

If you find yourself thinking:

“Yeah that’s great for him, but I can’t do that because __________________.”

STOP, capture that thought and turn it into:

“I can’t do that, but I could try _________________ instead.”

7. Ambiguity is the enemy of productivity.

My most unproductive times are when I sit down to work and don’t know what I should be working on.

This is when my time gets filled with checking email or reading blogs.

I do everything I can to ensure that every time I sit down to work, I know what I should be working on next, so I don’t waste time, frittering away my precious few hours of work time.

Once you have your mindset properly in place, you can move on to Part 2:

The Schedule

Your work schedule is the second most important thing to establish.

You must know exactly when you are going to work and what type of work you’ll be able to get done during those hours.

If you start each week “hoping” you’ll get some time to write, you’ll end each week having written far less than you could have.

Here’s a look at my weekly schedule:

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday

  • 4:15 am: Awake and making coffee.
  • 4:15 – 5:00 am: Reading/Prayer/Meditation
  • 5:15 am: Get to my office (3.1 miles from my house).
  • 5:15 – 8:45 am: Do creative work for the day such as writing, planning and online course content (more on that below). Other people don’t usually arrive at my office until 8:30 am, which leaves me with more than three hours of quiet, uninterrupted creative time.
  • 8:45 am: Go back home.
  • 9:00 – 11:30 am: Do homeschool with my two sons, Conner (9) and Max (6).
  • 11:30 – 11:45 am: Pack up, get my workout clothes, kiss the family goodbye, and head back to the office.
  • 12:00 – 4:15 pm: Back at my office. Focus on non-creative work: answering emails, making phone calls, and other “running a business” chores. If it’s not too busy and I can concentrate, I’ll try to get more creative work done, but it’s usually a stretch to manage that.
  • 4:15 pm: Pack up, change into workout clothes, and leave for the gym (.5 miles from my office).
  • 4:30 – 5:30 pm: Do CrossFit at my gym.
  • 5:30 – 9:30 pm: Go home, shower, have dinner, have family time, go to bed.

Tuesday

This year my family joined a homeschool group, which threw a monkey wrench into my Tuesdays.

However, I re-worked my schedule to ensure it accommodated the homeschooling first (#3 in my Mindset principles: My kids are more important than my work) and still covered all the work bases.

  • 4:15 am: Awake and making coffee.
  • 4:15 – 5:00 am: Reading/Prayer/Meditation
  • 5:00 – 7:00 am: Creative work at home.
  • 7:00 – 8:30 am: Get the kids up and ready for homeschool group. Get myself ready.
  • 8:30 am: Go to the office.
  • 8:45 am – 12:30 pm: Focus on non-creative work: emails, phone calls, run-my-business tasks, creative work if possible.
  • 12:30 pm: Pack up and drive to homeschool group for afternoon session with Conner.
  • 1:00 – 3:00 pm: Homeschool group.
  • 3:15pm: Leave for the gym. (Conner’s swim practice starts at 4:00 pm and, conveniently, is at the same gym as my CrossFit workout.)
  • 3:30 – 4:15 pm: Get a bit of work done (usually email) while waiting for my 4:30 CrossFit class to start.
  • 4:30 – 5:30 pm: Do CrossFit at my gym.
  • 5:30 – 9:30 pm: Home, shower, dinner, family time, bed.

Friday – Sunday

No official work schedule.

I usually sleep in on Fridays to recover from lack of sleep Monday through Thursday. I hang out with the family and get house projects done.

I usually also get some work done (I’m writing the draft of this post on a Saturday afternoon while the boys play Wii), but Friday through Sunday is very fluid.

I never officially plan on getting anything done, so I won’t be disappointed if that happens.

The point of sharing all this? To demonstrate that as a writer, I live a very regimented life.

For the most part, every week looks exactly the same as the last.

This does a couple things for me:

  1. It makes it easier to plan. I know exactly how much creative time I have each week, which helps me know how much work I can get done in a week. If you don’t have your writing/creative time set in stone, it’s impossible to be consistent with it.
  2. It deletes on-the-spot decision-making. Decision fatigue is real. Having a set schedule, and a basic idea of what you’re working on for each hour of that schedule, keeps you from having to make a lot of decisions every day.

“What if I can’t follow a set schedule?”

I realize that not everyone can have such a regimented schedule. You might be a new parent, or at the whim of a very busy day job.

Not too long ago, that was me too.

So what can you do?

1. Get up early.

It’s amazing how few distractions there are at 4:30 am. No co-workers. No phone calls. No new emails.

Just you, a cup of coffee and the blank page.

For those of you moaning about getting up early in the morning: See #3 under Mindset.

If you have a vision for what you are trying to accomplish, you can get up to accomplish it.

I do not naturally wake up at 4:00 am. Every single morning, it’s a struggle.

But when that alarm goes off, I focus on my Why and force my feet to the floor.

2. Put a Writing Meeting on the calendar.

When I was trying to write Your First 1000 Copies, I struggled to find time to write.

I had a very busy client business and was averaging five hours a day on the phone. There seemed to be no time to write—until I started scheduling it into my calendar.

I would create a meeting on my calendar called “Writing.” This would block off that time so that nothing else could get in the way.

If someone asked to meet with me during that time, I would say I was busy, and would offer an alternate time.

That kept me from putting the writing off indefinitely.

3. Cut down your consumption. Think about how much time you spend consuming other people’s creativity (television, reading, music, movies), versus how much time you spend doing your own creating.

Scott Berkun talked about this at a conference I attended last year.

This topic is strongly related to productivity, and the talk is well worth watching:

Stop watching so much TV and go to bed (see Point #1).

Install the News Feed Eradicator so you’ll stop checking Facebook. Even better, delete the social media apps from your phone.

Stop consuming other people’s creativity (or social media drivel) and order your life around your creativity.

4. Create a “Do Not Do” list.

People are often surprised by the number of things I don’t do.

Here’s a short list of what I don’t spend time on:

  • Facebook (except for a couple of groups I’m a member of)
  • Twitter (except for responding to people who reach out to me)
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram (except for posting pictures of my kids)
  • Printing business cards. I don’t have any.
  • Printing any other materials other than my book. No stationery, no bookmarks, etc. I’ve just never seen the ROI on these for what I do.
  • Blogging more than once or twice a month
  • Commenting on other people’s blogs
  • Reading that many blogs in the first place
  • Reading/watching any news outside of the particular industry news that’s relevant to my business goals

Your writing and creativity time is priceless. Don’t waste it on non-impactful work.

______

This part of the system is vital, whether or not you’re a full-time writer:

Plan out your work schedule ahead of time.

If you already have a full-time job that requires you to get up at 6:00 am, start turning off the television at 9:00 pm, so you can get up at 4:45 am and write the next morning.

And take your laptop to work so you can put your ear buds in and get another 750 words written at lunchtime.

If I called you on a Sunday night, you should be able to list out the days and hours each week when, barring a catastrophe, you butt will be on your writing chair.

The Plan

The Plan is the third component in this system.

Now that you know when you are going to get work done, you have to figure out what work you will be filling that time with.

As I’ve stated above, it’s best to never sit down to work without first knowing what you are going to work on.

However, you have to start with the long view first.

 

Planning the next 3 to 6 months

Calendar

This is my calendar: three calendar months, laid out right in front of me where I can see it every day.

I pre-plan every single blog post, email list send, and webinar, three months ahead of time.

What do you want to have written three to six months from now? How many words?

How many people do you want to add to your email list by then?

What are you going to do to make that happen?

Setting out my expectations for the next few months keeps me consistently moving on to the next step.

 

Planning the next week

Before I plan a week’s activities, I ask: What needs to get done this week so that I  stay on my three-to-six-month schedule?

This is where I plan when to do my “big rocks” — so I can fulfill my greatest priorities.

Watch this video:

For example, this week I need to:

  • Write two blog posts
  • Outline a new course I’m building
  • Put together a slide presentation I’m giving at a conference on Friday

 

Planning the next day

Now that I know the big things that have to be done this week — and I know when I’ll have creative time available to work on them — I can schedule each day.

Tomorrow, I’ll write the blog post and get started on my slideshow for my conference presentation on Friday.

I chose those two things because they have to be done so that I can keep to my three-to-six-month schedule.

I’ll save the product planning until later in the week, because if something happens and I can’t get to it, it won’t mean failure for my long-term plan.

I do this every single day.

Before I go to bed at night, I know what I’m going to work on first thing the next day (see #7 of Mindset).

By following this three-part system, you’ll make sure you’re using your precious creative time to get the most important work done.

When it all goes down in flames

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
– Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Even though I’ve laid out a solid, rigid plan above, of course it doesn’t always survive real life.

Your plan will not stay 100 percent intact.

Your kid is going to get sick. You’ll oversleep.

Your boss will make you stay late. Your editor will run two weeks late.

Or you will just plain feel unmotivated or discouraged and procrastinate your day away.

Here’s what I do when my plan starts unraveling:

  1. Give myself grace. It really is OK. It doesn’t make me a disgrace or failure. It doesn’t mean I’ll never succeed. It just means that, for today, my plan didn’t work out.
  2. Realize I’m still getting more done. While today may be a wreck, on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis, I’m still getting way more done with this system then I did in the past.
  3. Stop, readjust and start again. If I just lose an hour by oversleeping, I can usually catch up. But if I get the flu and am out for two days, I need to take a few minutes to pause, rework my plan, and then get back on my schedule.

Now is the time

You can do this.

If you’ve struggled in the past to get your writing done and move toward your goals, give this system a try.

As an added bonus, I’ve put together a free workbook along with a list of my favorite tools, apps and products I use to stay organized. You can download that here:

Click Here to Download the Free Workbook

 

 

Are you working on the right thing?

There seem to be so many ways to connect with fans and build our author platform.

In my book Your First 1000 Copies, I outline a proven three-part framework that any author can use to build their platform, connect with readers, and sell more books:

  1. Permission – Communicate with your fans in a way that gets their attention and drives them to action.
  2. Content – Offer free content and spread it widely and freely.
  3. Outreach – Move people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist.

If you can accomplish these three interconnected levels, you will build a thriving author platform full of fans excited to buy your next book.

But so many things can distract us and get in our way while we’re on the road to building our platform. While some of those things are important, most aren’t.

So often, we tell ourselves a task is important, just so we can dodge the real, hard work of what we really need to be doing.

Doing the Right Thing

A while back, an author wrote me and asked if he should overhaul his website with a new WordPress theme he had found.

I took a look at the website. While it wasn’t the most gorgeous site I’ve ever seen, it was getting the job done. It had an email signup, his books were displayed prominently, he had an author bio and was offering free content.

My question to him: “How much traffic are you getting to your website?”

Another author wrote to ask if she should start buying Facebook ads to get more people to “Like” her Facebook author page.

First, I had her read my post on the myths of social media.

Then I asked, “How many authors have you reached out to in order to create mutually supportive relationships?”

Then there was the author who was agonizing over what he should give away to new website visitors, so they’d sign up for his email list. He kept changing his free ebook—rewriting the hook, uploading new versions, etc.

When he asked me what to do, I asked, “How many podcasts have you pitched, to have you on as a guest?”

There are always tons of things you can spend your time on, but almost all of them – 99.9 percent – are a complete waste of your time.

Creating Long-Term Connections

Another question I received recently:

“It seems like nothing will work without Outreach. So why do you talk so much about Permission and Content first, when none of it matters if new people aren’t finding you?”

Here’s why . . .

Think of your website as a bucket.

For most authors, the bottom of that bucket is full of holes.

People come to your website, check out your books or read a blog post, then immediately leave.

They flow into your bucket all right — but then they drop right out of the bottom.

That’s because you’ve create no connection with them, no way to stay in contact long-term.

Once you figure out how to plug those holes in your bucket, things will start changing for you.

If you make the #1 goal of your website getting people on your email list (Permission) by prominently displaying email signups that include a great offer, you’ll start getting those visitors to sign up.

That gives you long-term access to communicate with them.

Then once your website is set up to get people on your email list, you start putting up compelling Content that gives people something to interact with.

A reason to come to the site in the first place.

You’ll start seeing even more of your site visitors signing up for your email list.

Only then is Outreach useful.

If you do Outreach before plugging the holes of Permission and Content, you’re just pouring more people into a bucket with holes. They’ll drop out of the bottom, and you’ll never see them again!

However, once you have plugged the holes in your website . . . leave it alone!

And focus on Outreach.

Focus on finding groups of people that don’t know you exist, and introduce yourself to them.

Solving Obscurity With Outreach

At this point in your platform-building, your #1 problem is Obscurity.

If nobody knows you exist, it’s going to be really hard to sell books.

You could have the most gorgeous, engaging website that gets 100 percent of the people who visit to gladly give you both permission to stay in contact with them AND buy a copy of every book you’ve ever written.

But if nobody knows you exist, it will all be for naught.

Here’s why . . .

Once you have your Permission and Content set up and working – even if it’s not the absolute best it could be – it’s time to move on to Outreach.

Outreach is the scary part. It’s the most ambiguous part.

It’s the part that requires us to reach out and face rejection.

So when it comes time to do it, we often shrink back and distract ourselves with things that aren’t important — like fiddling with our website, fixing the header on our Facebook page, or reading about successful social media marketing.

Here’s the deal — the plan that works, and that will save you months of wasted effort:

  1. Get an email list set up with an email service provider, and display your email signup prominently on your website.
  2. Regularly put out compelling free content on your website. Then, once that’s done:
  3. Spend the rest of your time on Outreach and solving your obscurity problem.

Then be honest with yourself, and only do the kinds of Outreach that may actually move the needle.

Doing What Matters

I’ve been working with a friend of mine as he’s been getting his platform off the ground. We’re talking starting from zero.

The first part was pretty straightforward.

He wrote out a series of helpful emails that people get when they sign up for his email list.

Then he used a WordPress theme to get his website up, put an easy-to-spot email signup on it, and started blogging regularly.

While this work wasn’t always easy, it was crystal clear in terms of what needed to be done.

Digging a 50-foot ditch isn’t easy, but how you go about it is pretty straightforward.

And then he hit Outreach. The hard, ambiguous part.

He struggled, pressed into the fear, tried several different things.

He despaired a few times. He wanted to quit.

His first 45 subscribers came in slowly.

Then last week, one of the dozen or so things he’d been trying finally started to work.

Within a couple days, he’d popped more than 100 new subscribers. Now he’s following up on that by offering more free content, to drive that number even higher.

I’ve seen this pattern before. He’ll be at 500 subscribers within a couple of months.

It takes work. It takes trying and failing. But the reward is worth it.

The end result? Direct connection to a few hundred and then thousands of fans, who aren’t just visiting your website once or twice.

They’re excited to buy your next book.

What I learned by winning my NaNoWriMo trophy badge

You may have heard of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writers Month.

NaNoWriMo is also the name of the nonprofit that hosts a writer’s contest every November, in which they encourage writers to write a 50,000-word novel in a single month.

As I announced in October, I’ve committed to writing and publishing a novel by March 2015.

That means I have to write fast. So I decided to join the NaNoWriMo craze and see if I could finish the novel in a month.

And on November 30th at 8:03pm, I typed the 50,003rd word of my new novel, tentatively titled The Dreken.

During a grueling month of cranking out an average of 1,667 words a day, I learned several things about myself and the writing process:

 

1. I make far too many excuses for not writing.

A while back, I wrote an article about the myth we all believe, of “I’m too busy.” And yet, I had been using that exact excuse to not get my writing done.

It’s been months since I wrote consistently, citing all kinds of reasons (read: excuses) why I wasn’t hitting my writing goals.

But then November rolled around – a month where I have just as many commitments as any other month, plus a major American holiday – and it turns out that I’m able to write almost every day.

In fact, as I wrote this article, I hit day #29 in a row of writing at least 500 words a day.

I use the Commit app to track my goal

I use the Commit app to track my goal

That’s my longest streak ever!

At this point, I have wisely concluded something important.

Writers write.

They don’t just think about writing. Or plan to write. Or hope to write. Or come up with new writing ideas. They actually write.

So if I want to be a writer, I must write.

 

2. Short-term, concrete goals are much easier to achieve.

“Write a novel” feels too overwhelming.

“Write every day” can also feel like too much when you’re starting out.

However, I can commit to something that is short-term (30 days) and concrete (1,677 words a day).

I’m not worried about whether I’ll keep writing past November. I’m not worried about whether my novel will be any good or not.

I’m just focusing on the short-term, concrete goal directly in front of me.

Today, I just have to write my 1,677 words. That’s all.

 

3. Do not edit during the first draft.

A friend and fellow author encouraged me to write the first draft straight through, without editing anything.

This reminded me of Anne Lamott’s advice about “shitty first drafts” from her fantastic book, Bird by Bird:

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.

I took this advice very seriously.

I wrote straight through. I didn’t correct grammatical errors. I didn’t worry about using the same word over and over. And over.

I even turned off the spell check to get rid of those little red squiggly lines under typos that are crying out to be fixed.

The only times I looked back through my manuscript was to:

  • Remind myself of a name or event I had forgotten
  • See where I’d left off the day before

Otherwise, I wrote straight through.

Whenever I realized I had just created a conflict with an earlier part of the story, or came up with a good idea to incorporate into previous chapters, I simply made a note of it in the text in ALL CAPS and kept typing.

I’ve done enough writing by now to know what self-editing while writing the first draft really is: procrastination.

The truth is, when you’re really in the zone and just trying to get the story out of your head as fast as it’s coming, you don’t think to stop and tweak your grammar to make it perfect.

But when the words are coming more slowly, and you’re not sure what to do next, it suddenly becomes all-important to go back and read through for misuses of “to” vs “too.”

Don’t do it. Stay the course. Focus.

When you’re writing the first draft, write forward only.

 

4. My advice on how to get your writing done works.

A couple years ago, I wrote this short article outlining my three steps to get your writing done.

I wrote it in response to the many questions I’d received from readers on this subject.

The article emphasizes writing pre-planned or previously researched content in the morning, at a pre-scheduled time.

I’d found that if I pushed my writing off until later in the day, or sat down to write with no clear plan for what happens next, everything came out stilted, without the right flow of energy and ideas.

The 3-step formula solves that age-old problem.

The interesting thing about NaNoWriMo?

It’s not about writers competing against other writers. It’s about writers competing against their own procrastination.

If you’re putting off writing your book until you have time or feel inspired, it’ll never happen.

Now’s the time to set that short-term, concrete goal and start making the time to write.

I know you can do it.

How to work with a writing coach

This week I had the privilege of working on my novel with Cathy Yardley of RockYourWriting.com.

Cathy is a novelist and writing coach who offers Plot Brainstorming sessions.

I turned to Cathy for some coaching, because whenever I start something new, I always think of this Donald Rumsfeld quote:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know . . . . it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

No matter how many books and articles I read, there is no way I’m going to know everything about planning my book.

Working on my own, I’m always going to miss problems, holes and mistakes lurking under the surface.

So I jumped at the chance to get on the phone with Cathy and let her rip my story apart, so we could put it back together again in the right way.

Of course, whenever someone critiques your storytelling, certain emotions are going to come up.

The Critique: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

At first, I felt embarrassed.

My story has wizards and assassins and castles and kings. Telling Cathy about my story was the first time I had said the whole thing out loud, and honestly, it felt ridiculous.

I kept thinking, “Oh, this is so cliché!” and “Dear god, she’s probably regretting getting on the phone to hear this drivel.” I had to push through that inner resistance.

Then I felt defensive.

Some of the characters and twists in my story were things that I liked. I didn’t want to give them up.

But I listened to her reasoning, and in all but one instance, she talked me into seeing her side of things.

Then I felt relieved.

At the end of session, Cathy said I had a strong story, and that it was ready to start being written.

Now, I know on a logical level that I’m allowed to sit down and start writing fiction whenever I damn well please. But having a professional give me permission to get started was very motivating.

As we moved through the session, she walked me through my characters, noting strengths and weaknesses in my inciting incident, plot points, the final “black moment,” and the resolution.

As with any good coach, she didn’t necessarily tell me any new information, so much as help me recognize problems and important elements that I was missing.

Working with a Writing Coach: The Positives

There are so many things to keep straight when writing a novel, that it’s easy to miss important factors.

Here are the biggest takeaways I gained from the session:

1. My main character has to grow and evolve throughout the course of the story.

I’ve read about this idea. But it wasn’t until Cathy asked, “How will your character have changed, grown or fallen by the end of the story?” and I heard myself answer “I don’t know,” that I realized I’d totally missed that important development.

Cathy walked me back through the entire story arc for my character, and helped me identify places he could grow and learn.

2. My middle was sloppy.

I needed two characters to end up in a certain place at a certain time, and had solved that problem in a very forced, contrived way — three kidnappings and two escapes, all in a row.

Cathy help me straighten this out, making that part of the story more interesting and exciting.

3. I was starting too slowly.

I was waiting to bring in my “inciting incident,” which starts my character’s quest, until seven scenes into the book.

BOR-ing.

Here’s the thing: You may read the above list and say, “Well yeah, of course.”

But I’d bet good money that you have similar problems happening in your book — the unknowns that are unknown to you.

I’ve learned, whether it’s working on your car, starting a business, writing a book or marketing one, that there will always be obvious things you are missing and need to know about.

And the fastest, most direct way to find your weak spots is to work with a professional who has done it a thousand times and can easily point them out.

Working with a Writing Coach: A Few Tips

At the end of the session, I asked Cathy to rate how I well I’d done as a client, on a scale of 1 to 10.

She gave me a 7.5. So of course, I asked for tips on how best to work with a writing coach.

Here’s the list we put together:

1. Prepare.

Most writing coaches are going to give you a few tasks to do ahead of your session. Do that homework.

I showed up with my characters and plot in place. This allowed us to immediately get to work, instead of sorting out the foundational details of who, when and where.

This will save you time and your coach frustration.

2. Kill your ego.

Any good writing coach is going to make you kill your darlings.

It’s not just a question of changing or deleting things that we like about our story. It’s admitting that some of our basic beliefs and assumptions about writing are wrong as well.

That’s not fun. However, keep the goal – writing a great story that readers love – constantly in sight, and sacrifice your pride on that altar.

3. Argue, but not too much.

Cathy told me “Be open to suggestions, but know your deal breakers before you start.”

On four or five points, I pushed back against Cathy’s suggestion. She won on all but one of them.

Pushing back isn’t a problem to a good coach, because it gave her a chance to explain why she was suggesting the change. That gave me a solid understanding of that point so I wouldn’t have to make that mistake again.

It’s OK to push back for the sake of discussion and clarity. However, don’t be a jerk.

When I wrote the second draft of Your First 1000 Copies, I had a good friend read it. We then got on the phone and she started giving me notes on things she thought needed to be changed.

I argued. A lot.

Not because she was wrong, but because I was mad that she was ripping apart my precious manuscript.

It was rude of me, and very counter-productive.

It’s OK to disagree with your writing coach, but fundamentally, you should trust them and take their advice.

When I wrote the first draft Your First 1000 Copies, I ended up throwing out over half of what I’d written. Then it took a lot of mental energy and procrastination before I started working on the second draft.

Looking back now, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration if I had worked with a writing coach before writing 20,000 unnecessary words.

It’s not a shameful act to admit we need help, especially when you’re starting something new. Get a coach and save yourself the headache and lost time of flailing alone.

Start getting those “unknown unknowns” out into the open.

If you’re interested in working with Cathy Yardley (whom I highly recommend) you can buy her book Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel or schedule a plot coaching session of your own.

Also, as a bonus for reading this far, Cathy was kind enough to provide her Rock the Plot Workbook for free.

Download Your Free Rock the Plot Workbook

 

Six months to a published novel

About a year ago, I started the 10k Experiment.

You can read the original blog post here.

The idea was to make a public goal of selling 10,000 copies of my book Your First 1000 Copies in the first year of publication.

The experiment was amazing in so many ways, but the best part about it was bringing you along for the ride.

It was amazing to learn along with you, and to share the ups and downs throughout the entire process.

Now, I’m going to do it again. But it’s not going to be about book sales.

This time, it’s about something much more terrifying to me.

Last May, author and good friend Michael Bunker invited me to write a short story for an anthology he was creating. Each story would be set in the world of his new sci-fi novel Pennsylvania.

I agreed, then quickly regretted it.

While I’ve written some fiction in the past, I’ve never published any of it. In fact, the thought of doing so makes me want to vomit.

And now I had agreed to publish a fiction piece!

The agony immediately set in.

Having blogged for more than a decade, I’ve published millions of words of nonfiction, but not a single word of fiction.

So I put it off. And put it off. And put it off.

Until finally the anthology’s editor, Chris Pourteau, told me I had to write it.

So I did.

I sat down and banged out 5,000 words in a single sitting and fired it off to them.

So far, based on the feedback of a few people who have read it, it’s not horrible.

Which got me thinking.

I had many guidelines for the 10k Experiment.

One of them was that whenever I came up against something that scared me, I made that fear a reason why I should do it, instead of a reason why I shouldn’t.

That’s what prompted me to post articles about dealing with negative criticism, failure and other painful topics.

And as often happens, the momentum created by that one forward-moving action then ran over into other areas of my life.

I began to take risks I normally wouldn’t have taken.

Which leads me here, today, to this article.

< Deep breath > Here it is:

I’m going to publish a full-length novel by March 31, 2015.

I currently have the idea for the novel, but nothing else.

So far there’s no outline. No characters. No chapters written. Nothing.

The final novel will be at least 50,000 words in length, and will be on sale by the end of March, less than six months from now.

What does this mean for you? And why should you care?

I’m going to share the entire process with you.

I’ll share the technical side of the project, including:

  • How I’m getting the writing done
  • The reading and editing process
  • Designing the interior and cover of the book
  • Getting blurbs
  • Launching the book
  • And so on . . .

I’m also going to share the emotional side.

Having worked with hundreds of writers and published my own nonfiction book, I’ve learned that the devil isn’t in the details.

The devil is in our hearts, and he fights us through the entire writing process.

I invite you to travel through this process with me.

Each week, I’ll send out an email with an update on where I am in the process, along with what I’m learning.

I have several goals for this project:

  1. Force myself to cross this off my bucket list
  2. Write a novel people actually want to read
  3. Help you face your own fears and reach your own goals

Most of what I’ve accomplished in my life has been due to watching other people accomplish something I admired, then gaining the courage to do it myself.

I want this process to work that way for you — to inspire you.

If someone like me can write and publish a novel in less than six months, that means you can too.

If you’re not already on our email list, I encourage you to sign up below.

If nothing else, it should be entertaining.