Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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Some never escape magic’s grasp

How do I celebrate my blog’s fifth anniversary? I write a guest post for someone else’s! Here’s the intro. Click on the link at the end to read the article in its entirety at PrincessMyParty.com.

What do princesses, superheroes, and space explorers have in common?

In a word: magic.

Perhaps that fact is most obvious with the princesses. After, the fairytales that inspired Disney’s roster of young royals are rooted in magic. Where would Beauty be without her Beast—not to mention his castle full of not-so-inanimate objects?

When princesses aren’t succumbing to sleeping spells, they’re conjuring up blizzards or breaking the Guinness Book of World Record for most impressive ponytail. Magic is in their blood.

Is it in yours? Read more at PrincessMyParty.com.

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Countdown for my Pun-a-Day Calendar

pun-a-day-calendarI never thought I’d have to raise $10,000 in 60 days.

In my defense, I expected I’d have longer—at least four months to mobilize a small army of bakers. But instead of securing an average of, say, $83 a day, I’m now looking at a goal of $167 per day.

And I’m already behind.

I’m referring to the Kickstarter campaign I launched last week. In between attempts to increase the sales of my published novels and preparation of new books for publication, I decided to pursue a new revenue stream: a Pun-a-Day Calendar featuring my wittiest wordplay.

(What, you thought I was joking when I mentioned this possibility in January?)

Here’s the blurb:

Start your day with a dose of wit you won’t find anywhere else.

When I’m not writing and publishing novels, I post puns on social media. I get more likes and followers with #wordplay than any other kind of post. Which leads me to believe there are others out there whose minds appreciate and perhaps even crave puns.

To appease this underground — punderground? — faction, I’m creating a page-a-day calendar featuring my off-the-beaten-path brand of wordplay.

The Pun-a-Day Calendar chronicles several years’ worth of wordplay. These are original creations. If you’ve heard it before, you won’t find it in my calendar (unless you’re already following me on Twitter, of course). Topics cover all manner of miscellany, from food and folk songs to comic books and the Bible.

Since I didn’t have $10,000 of startup capital just lying around for the print run of 500 calendars, I thought I’d give Kickstarter a shot. For those who don’t know, “Kickstarter helps artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and other creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality.”

It works like this:

  • Someone—let’s say a writer—comes up with an idea to create something, but he needs funding to move forward.
  • So he creates a campaign at Kickstarter to see if there is any interest and, ultimately, to drum up investors.
  • He comes up with the price for the product (e.g. $20) and creates pledge tiers, adding extra prizes and incentives to encourage people to pledge more.
  • He chooses somewhere between 30 and 60 days (but not 120) for the lifespan of the campaign.
  • Then he does whatever he can to spread the word about the campaign, hoping that enough people pledge and that he reaches his goal before deadline.
  • If the campaign is successful, the writer gets to complete his project, and everybody gets what they ordered. But if the campaign fails to meet its goal, no one pays anything and nothing gets made.

If I do not reach my goal by April 15, no one gets the Pun-a-Day Calendar.

Which is why I need your help in spreading the word to anyone and everyone who likes puns, quips, and wordplay. Teachers, writers of all kinds, and other creative types seem to fit this category, but no need to limit it to just them. The more the merrier!

If you’re interested in supporting my dream of flooding the world with wordplay, there’s a lot more information about the Pun-a-Day Calendar here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1620958229/pun-a-day-calendar

Wait, what do I need to do?

If I’ve learned anything about Kickstarter over the past week, it’s that many people don’t know much about it. If you’re interested in backing my Pun-a-Day Calendar campaign, here’s all you need to do:

  • Scroll down and click the big green button that says “BACK THIS PROJECT.”
  • Now you’ll have four options for backing the campaign:
    • You can pledge money for no reward.
    • You can pledge $5 or more to get the e-book version of my fantasy novel Rebels and Fools.
    • You can pledge $20 or more to get the Pun-a-Day Calendar itself.
    • You can pledge $35 or more to get the Pun-a-Day Calendar as well as e-book versions of Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters.
  • No matter what option you choose, every dollar goes toward the project’s $10,000 goal.
  • Next, you’ll need to create a Kickstarter account and enter your credit card information. (But remember, you won’t be billed unless/until the campaign reaches its goal.)
  • On April 15, you’ll be notified whether or not the project got enough backing. If it does, you’ll get your calendar and/or other prizes in the months to come. If not, your credit card won’t be billed.

Not too difficult, right? Anyway, life is full of new experiences. And if this campaign proves successful, I’ll be learning even more as I publish my first calendar.

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New prices for 2017!

The Renegade Chronicles print and ebook covers

The Renegade Chronicles

  • Rebels and Fools: $3.99 $2.99
  • Heroes and Liars: $3.99 $2.99
  • Martyrs and Monsters: $3.99 $2.99

Or get all three—plus an extensive appendix detailing the people, places, and peculiarities of Altaerra—for $4.99!

Kindle logo       Nook logo  iBooks logo  ePub logo         PDF logo

Paperbacks

Prefer a hard copy? All three volumes of The Renegade Chronicles are also available at CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com.

Learn more about The Renegade Chronicles.

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Unlike fiction, numbers don’t lie

For a “word guy,” I sure geek out on numbers.

This left-brained gravitation came in handy when putting together my 2016 business plan. And now, more than a full year later, I’m in a position to evaluate how close reality aligned to the strategy.

Because when it comes to collecting data, I err on the side of ridiculous.

Maybe it’s because the craft—the art of writing—is largely subjective. Sure, there are rules for composition and standards for publication, but (ahem) renegade books still may rise to the top. Other than word counts and number of pages, there just isn’t much room for figures.

But other aspects of my writing—the business of writing—are easy to quantify. For example:

Number of Books Published in 2016

  • Projected: 4-5
  • Actual: 5

Going into 2016, I knew I would publish all three novels of The Renegade Chronicles in both paperback and e-book versions as well as a digital-only complete collection. Back in late 2015, I had included publishing Magic’s Daughter, a standalone fantasy novel set in the same world as the trilogy (Altaerra), as a stretch goal.

While that didn’t happen, I did produce a free e-book companion to The Renegade Chronicles, Capricon and Beyond, bringing my total to five.

As a goal, this turned out to be a pretty straightforward success. But sales are another story.

Sales of Individual Books

Rebels and Fools (paperback)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 47

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 110
  • Actual: 14

Heroes and Liars (paperback)

  • Projected: 45
  • Actual: 35

Heroes and Liars (e-book)

  • Projected: 85
  • Actual: 13

Martyrs and Monsters (paperback)

  • Projected: 30
  • Actual: 36

Martyrs and Monsters (e-book)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 7

The Renegade Chronicles (Collection)

  • Projected: 80
  • Actual: 15

Clearly, I fell short of my goals here. The only milestone I met—and surpassed—was the sale of Martyrs and Monsters in paperback. Not so surprisingly, the deficit in sales directly impacted income.

Total income

  • Projected: $1,355.40
  • Actual: $786.45

Ouch. And the shortfall in paperbacks wasn’t nearly as bad as the disappointing number of e-book sales because I earn far more royalties for an e-book than I do for a printed version. (No printing costs mean more money in my pocket.)

And then there’s the money coming out of my pocket…

Total expenditures

  • Projected: $1,225.01
  • Actual: $1,857.73

Double ouch. For the record, many of these expenses were a result of setting up my business (One Million Words LLC), not necessarily the publishing of my novels, though there were costs associated with that as well.

Moreover, I ended up ordering more copies of the book to sell at events than I had thought I would. Some of that I recouped, but I have a couple hundred dollars in inventory on hand at the moment, thanks to a certain snowstorm that won’t be named. (OK, it was Bailey.)

You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate how the above numbers affect profit.

Total profit

  • Projected: $130.39
  • Actual: -$1,142.25

Fact: most new businesses don’t make a profit their first year, so maybe breaking even (or coming out just above that) was too optimistic. Yet I ended up much farther afield than I would have liked.

So what went wrong? Perhaps I just didn’t work hard enough?

Total hours worked

  • Projected: 12.00 hours/week for a total of 624 hours
  • Actual: 13.29 hours/week for a total of 691 hours

Nope, I wasn’t slacking. Maybe I didn’t put enough time into what matters, such as marketing.

Total hours spent on marketing

  • Projected: 1.00 hour/week for a total of 52 hours
  • Actual: 3.56 hours/week for a total of 185 hours

It became obvious early on that a single hour of marketing per week wasn’t going to accomplish much. And even a novice entrepreneur understands that marketing directly impacts sales. Yet after investing more than three times what I had originally allocated to marketing, why weren’t readers finding—and buying—my book?

What did I miss?

Breakdown of total marketing hours

  • Blog: 32.25
  • Events: 34.25
  • Media relations: 13.75
  • Newsletter: 7.50
  • Seeking reviews: 20.00
  • Social media: 18.25
  • Website updates: 8.50
  • Phase 2: 20.75
  • Everything else: 29.75

You may be wondering, “What’s Phase 2?” Well, when I saw that sales were sluggish, I did a bunch of research and came up with a plan to boost them. That’s when I decided to put out the free compendium e-book.

For the record, here is how the rest of my time shook out:

Non-marketing hours

  • Planning/writing the first draft of If Dreams Can Die: 190.00
  • Publishing The Renegade Chronicles: 183.00*
  • Donated hours: 35.00**
  • Business planning: 28.25
  • Creating/publishing the free e-book compendium: 27.00
  • Random tasks: 20.25
  • Business administration: 13.25
  • Miscellaneous research: 5.25
  • Trying to publish short stories: 4.00

* Additional hours for this project were expended in 2015.

** I donated some of my One Million Words time helping a friend publish his memoirs. More on that in the days ahead…

Pie chart showing how I spent 2016

Analysis

I spent more than a quarter of my time (26.77%) on marketing communications, including a gamut of channels to try to connect to my target demographic. That’s only slightly less time than I spent on actual writing! Only publishing (The Renegade Chronicles novels and the compendium) consumed more hours in 2016.

Which means I must be one lousy book marketer, huh?

Maybe. But in my defense, I also took a grassroots (read: cheap) approach to marketing. Sure, a business needs to spend money to make money, but there are entirely too many ways for an author to flush away what little startup capital he has. If I’m going to invest a penny in a service, I demand demonstrated ROI.

To date, I have yet to find a surefire method for rising above the noise—er, competition—to reach with the right readers. And yet if I don’t do something to draw attention to my books, they’ll remained buried beneath Amazon’s algorithm along with hundreds, if not thousands, of similar products.

But wait, sales don’t reflect the total number of people who have read my book…

Free downloads

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 508

Capricon and Beyond (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 84

The idea was this: If I made Book 1 free to download, folks who enjoyed it would pay actual money to read the rest of the series. One can come to a number of conclusions as to why this didn’t happen. Maybe they didn’t like Rebels and Fools very much.

Or maybe people who like free books like them because they don’t have to pay for them…and with so many complimentary promos going on any given time, they’ll be elbow deep in free reads for eternity.

What’s next?

Examining the time and money I put into marketing and then making informed decisions based on the data is my priority. But I started One Million Words not only to sell books, but also to write new ones.

Learning that I could crank out a book in 190 hours was very eye-opening. Granted, it’s the third book in a series (The Soul Sleep Cycle), so some of the heavy lifting had already been done prior to plotting out If Dreams Can Die. But it does raise a series of interesting questions:

  1. Am I better off focusing my energy on finishing and publishing The Soul Sleep Cycle through One Million Words in hopes that sales from that series will drive The Renegade Chronicles’ sales?
  2. Or am I just going to face the same obstacle as before—struggling to be heard in an oversaturated market?
  3. Or am I better off being more proactive in finding a different publisher for The Soul Sleep Cycle, such as a mid-sized or small press, so that I’ll have a partner in marketing that series?
  4. And what about other revenue streams? (Would anyone really pay for a pun-a-day calendar?)

One thing is for certain. I have plenty to ponder as I close the books, so to speak, on 2016.

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I’m no elf, but maybe I can help with your seasonal shopping

Tour the Town logoHaving trouble finding a gift for the guy or gal who has everything?

Or a book for someone who has read everything?

Add a little more magic to someone’s holiday with autographed copies of The Renegade Chronicles, my sword-and-sorcery fantasy series. As a featured artist at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin’s downtown art walk, I will be signing Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters.

I’ll even include a personalized message to the reader in your life; just call me Santa’s little helper.

(Can’t make the event? The Renegade Chronicles is available year-round at online retailers like Amazon.com. E-book versions also are available, including a three-in-one collection. Learn more here.)

Tour the Town Art Walk

Friday, December 16, 2016
5 to 8 p.m.
Wood’s Floral & Gifts, 36 N. Main St., Fond du Lac, Wis.

If you already own any of The Renegade Chronicles, I’ll be happy to sign them. I’ll also have a few copies of all three novels for sale—maybe more than a few if I benefit from a Christmas miracle and my new order arrives before Friday.

Fantasy not your thing? Feel free to stop by and just chat. The art walk is free, so if you ever wondered what it’s like to be an author, I welcome questions. I might do a short reading from Rebels and Fools at some point in the evening.

You can support other artists too, including Alan Hathaway, a talented potter and very good friend of mine. See the full roster of artists, where they will be, and more info about Tour the Town here.

Here’s to happy holidays for all and an exciting new year!

Unsure whether The Renegade Chronicles is right for you? Check your compatibility here.

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Looking for literary love?

Blind dates are the worst. Maybe it’s human nature to want to know as much as we can before we commit—even if only for an evening.

The same can be said for books.

Our time is precious. We’ve all romanced read wonderful books before, novels that grab us by the heart and won’t let go. But there’s no guarantee the next plot you pick up will be a keeper. And if you’re judging a book by its cover alone, you’re bound to stumble onto dull, infuriating, or otherwise awful stories.

Banner ads and back-of-the-book synopses give only a glimpse at a novel’s personality. Often we crave more. Reviews help, though in some cases, that can be like asking the ex’s opinion of a prospective partner. Beware of bias.

Fortunately, we live in the 21st century. We have the internet. If you’re looking for a book to pal along with at the beach, a companion for your next weekend at the cabin, or someone with whom to share a rainy night, you’d better do a little research.

I can’t promise 29 dimensions of compatibility, but the following “dating profile” for my fantasy series is as earnest and true as anything on the web.

Fun-loving fantasy trilogy seeks loyal reader

The Renegade Chronicles print and ebook covers

As with most dating profile pics, this image has been Photoshopped.

Name:

The Renegade Chronicles

Nicknames:

I’m sometimes called TRC for short. I also go by #Renegades on social media.

Physical description:

Some days, I compartmentalize and take the form of three individual paperback or e-book novels (Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters). Other times, I put all of myself out there as a three-in-one e-book collection.

Passions:

I’m sword-and-sword fantasy, through and through. With me you get knights, wizards, pirates, priests, assassins, thieves, and monsters.

I’m a sucker for imagination, the supernatural, suspense, life-and-death situations, politics, battle, and acts of bravery. (But perfect heroes bore me. Everyone has flaws.)

Also, I love me some plot twists.

Quirks:

I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, which can be scary for some. Maybe I’m a bit of an excitement junky because I prefer high stakes.

Having said all that, I also have a healthy sense of humor. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I’m not afraid to throw out a joke every now and then.

Strengths:

I have a lot to say, so if you like sprawling narratives that encompass many people and places, I’m the fantasy story for you. Not to boast, but my battle scenes are pretty thrilling (though not too vivid), and dialogue with me always comes off as natural.

At the end of the day, I bring the fun. Setting, pathos, narrative arc—these things are important, but I want you to enjoy the adventure, every step of the way. Pacing is important. I prefer the right level of “epic”—not as academic as Tolkien or exhaustive as George R.R. Martin. I’ll make you think…but not too hard.

I promise I won’t spend an entire page describing a leafy glen.

Flaws:

I’ve been told that getting to know me can be a little challenging at first, but with a little patience (a handful of chapters, say), you’ll see I have a lot to offer. Chances are you won’t want to let me go.

Oh, and while I put a lot about myself out there over the course of three novels, there are some secrets I’m just not willing to share up front. I’m hoping to find someone who wants to get to know me for the long haul—in which case, I’ll be more than happy to provide future stories to fill in the blanks.

Deal breakers:

Readers who love invincible protagonists should look elsewhere. This is a rebellion, people. Dashed dreams, injuries, and fatalities come with the territory. I’m kind of complicated that way; while some characters will find happy endings, others…well…won’t.

I’m thankful for:

Folks who can appreciate a layered story with a large cast of characters in a world filled with shades of gray. (I’m speaking of morality, not the best-selling erotica novel. I’m not at all kinky; I prefer romance to be understated.)

Qualities of an ideal partner reader:

Did you grow up with Harry Potter? Are you ready to take the next step in the fantasy genre with a more mature match? If so, I think we’d be magical together.

Or maybe you’ve never looked twice at a book with a dragon on the cover. Maybe you’ve always thought fantasy seemed a little childish. I’m here to tell you that you’re never too old for a fun, action-packed story populated with relatable characters. If you’re a fantasy virgin, don’t worry. We’ll take it slow.

If you’ve strayed away from fantasy over the years, I won’t judge. I’m a great rebound series.

Share the love…

Another fun fact about blind dates: it’s a lot of fun to set up a friend on one. So why not forward a link to this dating profile blog post to anyone you know who might be a good match. The first book is currently free!

Adventure—and, hopefully, some literary love—await!

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