Should you self-publish your book?

Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.

So self-publishing is an exercise in futility and obscurity. Of course, there are the stories of the writers who self-publish and magic happens and they sell millions of books, but those are the rare exceptions. How rare? Well, on the order of 1 or 2 per million.
Nick Morgan, Should You Self-Publish Your Book?

741941-book-signing-lineNick paints a realistic picture of the work required to become a “successful” self-published author—if you’re defining success purely in terms of book sales. But I think there are other perspectives to consider.

My first book, about participant-driven and participation-rich conferences, was published three years ago. I have only sold a few thousand copies (though sales per year continue to rise) and the money I’ve made from selling books translates into a few cents an hour for the four part-time years I took to write the book. Not successful by Nick’s terms, right?

But. During those three years I’ve moved from complete obscurity to become a fairly well known authority in the field of innovative event design. My blog had 2.25 million page views in 2012, I’m routinely presenting at industry conferences, and a typical consulting gig brings income that’s equivalent to selling five hundred books.

If you are writing non-fiction for a niche market and you have something important to say, your book can provide wonderful exposure and authority that may (no guarantees!) translate into significant income.

I considered going the traditional publishing route and I’m glad I didn’t for several reasons:

  • Traditional publishing typically adds another year before your book is published.
  • I had complete control over the look and content of my book. I hired the same professionals—editor, proofreader, book designer, cover designer, copywriter—that major publishers use (they are often freelancers these days) and worked with them directly without the publisher as an intermediary.
  • Although you’re very unlikely to make significant money from book sales, you receive significantly more money on each copy of the book.
  • I have been able to build relationships with many of my book buyers. Although the paperback version of my book is available everywhere, I sell the ebook myself. Most of my sales come directly from my website, perhaps because I offer 30 minutes free consulting to anyone who buys the book from me. This allows me to connect one-to-one with my readers, which translates into additional consulting/facilitation/presenting work while building up a list of people who are likely be interested in my next book, due to be published later this year.

I hope my experience and thoughts are helpful and perhaps encouraging for some who have been considering self-publishing.

Image attribution: Dianne Heath

The psychology of event sponsorship

Who would have thought that event sponsorship psychology was a thing?

The following story by Vaughn Bell on a recent change to the DSM “psychiatric bible” shines light on a fundamental but little known reason why smart companies sponsor events that have a bearing on the products or services they supply. Yes, event sponsorship is a way for a sponsor to increase visibility, image, prestige and credibility with a target audience, differentiate the company from competitors, help to develop closer and better relationships with customers, and showcase sponsor offerings and capabilities. Yet we’ve known for over five decades that gift-giving activities like sponsorship change recipients behavior in ways that they’re not aware of. In other words, event sponsorship psychology exists! Read on:

A change to the DSM manual

event sponsorship psychologyOne of the most controversial changes to the recently finalised DSM-5 diagnostic manual was the removal of the ‘bereavement exclusion’ from the diagnosis of depression – meaning that someone could be diagnosed as depressed even if they’ve just lost a loved one.

The Washington Post has been investigating the financial ties of those on the committee and, yes, you guessed it:

Eight of 11 members of the APA committee that spearheaded the change reported financial connections to pharmaceutical companies — either receiving speaking fees, consultant pay, research grants or holding stock, according to the disclosures filed with the association. Six of the 11 panelists reported financial ties during the time that the committee met, and two more reported financial ties in the five years leading up to the committee assignment, according to APA records.

A key adviser to the committee — he wrote the scientific justification for the change — was the lead author of the 2001 study on Wellbutrin, sponsored by GlaxoWellcome, showing that its antidepressant Wellbutrin could be used to treat bereavement…

The association also appointed an oversight panel that declared that the recommendations had been free of bias, but most of the members of the “independent review panel” had previous financial ties to the industry.

Actually, it’s kind of sad that this isn’t a surprise, but perhaps more worrying is the fact that the chairman of the mood disorders panel that made the change, Jan Fawcett, doesn’t seem to understand bias.

“I don’t think these connections create any bias at all,” Fawcett said. “People can say we were biased. But it assumes we have no intelligence of our own.”

Fawcett is assuming that bias means ‘dishonesty’ where people deliberately make choices for their own advantage against what they know to be a better course of action, or ‘sloppiness’ where people don’t fully think through the issue.

But bias, as you can find out from picking up any social psychology paper from the past century, is where incentives change our behaviour usually without us having insight into the presence or effect of the influencer.

This is exemplified in the work of Dan Ariely, and the research that won Daniel Kahneman the Nobel Prize.

So when someone says, “I don’t think these connections create any bias” it means – ‘I’m not willing to think about the bias that these connections create’ which is a red flag that they won’t be recognised or addressed.
A depressing financial justification by Vaughn Bell

Event sponsorship psychology works!

The Middle East merchant who invites you into his shop for coffee before discussing a sale. The Italian winemaker who plies you with her wines to taste before she graciously shows you the cost to ship a dozen bottles back home. (Yes, this happened to me recently).

Most cultures learned long ago the power of giving gifts to change behavior.

Western cultures believe in the supremacy of our minds over our emotions. Daniel Kahneman describes this as “the rider over the elephant”. Consequently, they discount the effects that sponsorship can have on our hearts and subsequent decisions. I sincerely thank the myriads of event sponsors who have often made my time at events easier and more pleasant. I also acknowledge their influence on my future consulting recommendations and purchasing choices. As Bell points out, people who believe their intelligence will protect them against the ways our brains actually work are fooling themselves. Meanwhile, the smart sponsor smiles and continues to be generous.

Event sponsorship psychology works!

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Product/service developers and marketers—listen up!

Google “Generation X’ and you’ll get over 300 million results.

I think this way of thinking about people is nonsense. And so does Clay Shirky.

“One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational difference, the idea that today’s thirty-somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X, while twenty-somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels is enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months.”
—Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Shirky goes on to say that those who like to dramatize these generational differences are making a fundamental attribution error; mistaking new behavior for some kind of change in human nature rather than a change in opportunity. Much of the “difference” between “generations” is in fact caused by a change in that generation’s environment or circumstances.

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Rather than start with supposed generational differences, dig deeper into the causes for changes in behavior. Instead of marketing driven by statistical analyses of differences in behavior, concentrate on understanding why behaviors have changed. (Or haven’t.)

Then develop your products, services, and marketing around your understanding of relevant human behavior and the changing environment.

Remember, people don’t change that fast. But their environment and circumstances can.

That’s what you should focus on.


P.S. If you haven’t already, read Switch by the Heath brothers for a great practical approach to changing people’s behavior.

A letter to event technology companies trying to sell me stuff

Dear event technology vendor,

I’m sure I’m not the only event professional who is bombarded with email from event technology companies. I receive solicitations from multiple companies each week, asking me to check out/review their latest mobile app/conference management software/social-networking tool etc.

Guys, I don’t want to be crass here, but could you give me some idea upfront how much your products/services cost?

If cost was no object I would be a customer for much of the stuff you are pitching.

But cost is not no object. For me to evaluate the value proposition you’re offering I have to know the value of what you provide and what it costs me. The former is my job. The latter is yours.

I read your patter about your product or service, decide to find out more and click on your embedded link. So far so good. I jump to your elaborate website where it’s obvious you have spared no expense creating great material designed to turn me into a customer. Overviews, feature lists, videos—it’s all there.

Except for any kind of price information.

You don’t share your pricing model! Is this is a $299-for-unlimited-use, a $5/seat, or a $10,000/event deal? Are there packages of services available at clear price points? If customization is an option, what ballpark costs are we talking about?

About the only thing I’m sure of, once I’ve wasted my time searching for this information on your oh-so-pretty website, is that you don’t use a freemium model. You would have told me about that.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to enter into your next sales step—the “contact us to discuss your requirements” dance—on the off chance that your actual pricing model represents real value for me.

So next time—if there is a next time—please consider giving me all the basic information I need so I’ll be compelled to check out your possibly awesome creation further. I can handle talking about money upfront. And so can you.

Sincerely,

A lost potential customer

Photo attribution: Flickr user dswilliams

Content Is Marketing; Profits Come From Somewhere Else

content is marketing

Here’s an important lesson I learned about marketing while running a solar business thirty years ago, forgot, and learned again after publishing my first book in 2009. With the rise of online, this lesson has never been more important than it is today.

Succeeding in business in a commodity market

In 1979 I was an owner of Solar Alternative, a Vermont solar manufacturing company. It was the height of the first “energy crisis”, and solar was, forgive me, hot. We manufactured solar hot water systems, which we retailed, wholesaled and installed all over New England. Solar hot water was a fairly easy business to enter in those days. Our small company, which employed about a dozen people, had plenty of competition, some of it providing equipment of questionable quality.

Apart from the solar collectors, which we manufactured using a few hand tools and our big investment, a ten foot sheet metal brake, all the other solar hot water system components could be purchased from any well-stocked plumbing wholesaler. We developed a reputation for supplying reliable systems that could stand the severe New England winters, but so did many of our competitors.

Our company needed a way to successfully differentiate itself from significant competition.

We noticed that our customers were unwilling to pay for information about how to correctly select and install solar hot water systems. There are many ways that these systems can fail or provide sub-optimum energy output, and we had learned how to avoid them. Our potential customers were willing to shell out big bucks for the systems themselves, but they did not want to pay separately for our hard-won knowledge.

So we gave away our expertise.

The one differentiator between Solar Alternative and our abundant competitors became our unique willingness to provide free, unlimited advice to the wholesalers and end-users who investigated and/or purchased our products.

We were happy to freely share our valuable content—how to build and install high quality, reliable solar hot water systems—to anyone who asked. Our company gave away our content for free. We made money from the mark-up on our products when our prospects trusted our expertise and decided to purchase.

The brutal economics of writing a book

There’s no question that writing my first book cannot be described as a carefully thought out business decision. I was mission-driven to share what I had learned about participant-driven events since I began organizing them in 1992. It took four years of part-time work before Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love was published. Despite brisk sales for a niche book, my compensation for writing it was a few cents per hour.

This isn’t news, of course. Very few of the million book titles published globally each year ever make an author much money directly. So, was my decision to write a book one of the poorer financial choices of my life?

Well, no. (The worst was shorting Google’s IPO; it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Though the book provides a tiny income, the fact that I wrote it has led to numerous speaking, consulting, and conference design engagements, any one of which pays far more handsomely than selling a hundred books. Though the book isn’t free, its content sells for about one cent for every hundred words; a pretty minuscule amount. I make money from the apparent expertise and exposure that the book implies/conveys (your choice).

Content is Marketing; Profits Come From Somewhere Else

Get the connection between these two stories? For whatever reason, people are generally reluctant to pay much or anything for commodity or packaged information. But that doesn’t mean they don’t value good content. Often, they use the existence of high-quality information to cement their trust in the person or organization that provides it. From this perspective, content—whether it be advice on solar hot water systems, a fresh way of thinking about conferences, or accurate, timely, and useful information on any topic—is effective marketing for whatever you sell that makes money for you. I think this has never been truer than in today’s online world, where it’s never been easier to find pertinent content.

In 1985, my mentor, Jerry Weinberg, said it well: “Give away your best ideas“. It has worked for me; I believe it can work for you too.

Do you give away your best ideas? If so, how has doing so worked for you? If not, why not?

Post inspired by Publishing 2.0: Content Is Marketing, Profits Come From The Packaging

Create events that tug at heartstrings

heartstrings 5353299866_90e3786bfc_o

“When I think of how meetings are marketed, I never see anything, at least for our industry, that tugs at heartstrings. That’s where many of us connect. Imagine if say there were words and visuals of founders of organizations who were still active in some way…it just seems we forget.”
Joan Eisenstodt, from a March 6, 2011 comment on Facebook

Eight years ago, at a conference I was facilitating, I noticed a couple of participants wandering round with a camcorder. (This was a somewhat novel occurrence at the time; inexpensive camcorders were just appearing.) They were shooting footage of conference events and seemed to be interviewing people. No one had asked them to do this, and I assumed they were videoing for their own purposes. This was fine by me, and, in the usual press of conference process I forgot about what they were doing.

Six months later, out of the blue, I received this:

edACCESS testimonial video

Watching, I had one of those rare but so special conference choked up moments. Without asking anyone, Tom Flanagan and Whitney Donnelly decided to make a movie about our conference and offered it to us for promotional purposes. When conference attendees do something like this unsolicited, you know there’s something good going on.

Today, it’s easy to make such movies. But we haven’t made any more. The video is still available for viewing on the edACCESS home page. Nothing out of the ordinary by today’s standards, it remains as a reminder of something very special made by Whitney & Tom because their heartstrings were tugged back in 2003.

Do you create events that tug at heartstrings? If so, you should feel proud. I know I do.

Photo attribution: Flickr user ally213

How to add participation into a traditional conference and market it

A common question people ask me is how to add participation into existing events and market them effectively. The Medical Group Management Association will be doing just that at their 2011 PEER conference (estimated 800 attendees).

Even MGMA’s choice of name for the conference echoes the event’s theme of “directing the conversation”: PEER, a neat acronym for Participate, Educate, Experience, Relate.

Conference marketing

Take a look at how the conference brochure carefully incorporates PEER themes (click image to view).

add participation MGMA PEER brochure

What do you think of MGMA’s design and marketing?

Full disclosure: MGMA is a client of Conferences That Work.

Social media presentation May 13 2010

Publicity still for SM talkOne man’s descent into a world of blogs, Twitter, and social networking sites in the pursuit of publicity for his book.

Updated May 13, 2010 with slide deck & additional links (see end of post)

On Thursday, May 13, at 7 p.m., in the Brooks Memorial Library’s meeting room, Adrian Segar, local author of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love returns to describe what he’s learned about marketing his book via social media in the six months since it was published. His talk will be of interest to anyone who wants to find out more about using social networking sites and tools to market products and services.

Adrian Segar, who ran the monthly meetings of the Southeastern Vermont Computer Users Group for sixteen years, offered to give this talk after he recently began being bombarded with questions about blogging and using services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for publicity, marketing, and fostering connections with existing and potential customers.

Marketing with social media is a huge topic and can’t be covered comprehensively in a single session. Instead, Adrian will describe his surprising journey attempting to discover how best to use social media to publicize his nontraditional approach to conference design. His experience will be a useful guide to what you may encounter if you delve into this strange new environment. After Adrian has told his story there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion.

Adrian Segar has organized and facilitated conferences for 30 years. He is a former elementary particle physicist, information technology consultant, professor of computer science, and co-owner of a solar manufacturing company. He lives with his wife Celia in Marlboro, Vermont, is active in the non-profit world, and loves to sing and dance.

The program is free and open to all.

Presentation resources

Slide deck for my talk
Some reasons I don’t like FaceBook
More reasons I don’t like FaceBook

Can we measure ROI in social media? – Part 2

ROI in SM part 1-4193339222_b6c7e45098_bIn my last post Can we measure the ROI in social media? – Part 1 I argued that it’s pointless to try and calculate ROI in social media. If convinced you might ask, “In that case, how can I justify the allocation of resources towards social media marketing?”

Perhaps the following will help.

As I previously explained, the problem with applying classic ROI to SM marketing is we can’t quantify the Return monetarily. This is because we can’t tie increases in sales or profits directly to specific social media actions or programs. This inability blocks us from talking about ROI at all.

But wait—surely what we really want to do is to make decisions about allocating resources amongst different marketing channels? Since we need to market our products and services, the real question is how and where do we spend our marketing budget? Here’s David Meerman Scott again, emphasizing this point in his usual forthright fashion.

So why not use a slightly different metric, one that allows us to compare the effectiveness of different marketing channels in ways we can measure. Let’s call it the Relative Return On Investment (RROI). RROI sidesteps the problem of assigning a monetary value to Return. Instead it concentrates on providing a practical comparison between investments allocated to specific marketing channels and our desirable and measurable marketing outcomes. (For example: increasing traffic to websites, new product suggestions, time spent on sites, active memberships, or brand mentions.) In effect, we’re replacing Return with the changes in concrete metrics that we believe are important to our marketing objectives. The units of RROI are then [change in metric] per unit of currency invested, e.g. increase in daily page views per dollar, or decrease in weekly customer support calls per euro.

Using RROI we can do experiments and make decisions about where we want to allocate marketing resources. Our experiments won’t be as precise as those possible in the past, when only targeted audiences saw broadcast marketing. But by using tagged indicators of traffic origins and existing analytics we can probably get a good sense of the relative effectiveness of alternative marketing strategies. That’s useful.

Be aware that using RROI in this way won’t tell you how much you should invest in marketing. That can be answered by ROI analysis performed across potential profit opportunities available to a business. But if measuring ROI in social media is a fantasy, perhaps using RROI in its place is an honest reflection of what’s practically possible.

Is RROI a useful, relevant way to think about investments in social media? Or am I just blowing smoke? As always, your comments are welcome!