Tuesday 29 January 2008

Karamatura Track bush walk

It was beautiful weather for Auckland Anniversary Weekend, and Duncan, Mark, Julianne and I went for a walk on the Karamatura Loop Track near Huia.

A little way off the Karamatura Track, which joins the loop, we found this pool and waterfall:

That's Mark wringing out his T-shirt and Duncan's profile in the hat. Julianne, I think, was off getting changed at the time.

I was going to swim, but the water was freezing, as I discovered when I waded in. Dialogue ensued:

Julianne: Come on, Mike, you can't go that far and then back out.
Mike: Yes, I can. Just watch me.

Nice to cool my feet down, though.

Monday 21 January 2008

City of Masks for sale on CreateSpace

You can now buy City of Masks on CreateSpace as well as on Lulu. The corrected proof just arrived.

It'll be interesting to see how long it takes to get into Amazon's catalogue. I'll then be able to do a comparison of total timing as well as all the other factors.

I should have Zenith Print as a third point of comparison fairly soon too.

MadScam - full review

Last week I included Madscam by George Parker in my list of marketing and advertising books that I was reading.

I've now finished it, so here's a fuller review.

Firstly, George Parker is a stereotypical advertising person in some ways. He's loud, over-the-top, obnoxious, knows less than he thinks he does about the world in general, is sometimes "clever" at the expense of making his point clearly and simply, and his sentence structure and punctuation are a bit ropey at times (especially towards the end of the book). But he has some good, sensible advice to offer about advertising for small to medium businesses, both things to do and things to avoid. Top on his list of things to avoid is employing a big advertising agency; second is producing advertising that's just like everyone else's that says that your businesses is just like everyone else's. (The second would be a consequence of the first, he strongly suggests.)

Here are some notes I took of things that were specifically relevant to me, as someone with a small hypnotherapy practice that I want to grow larger. There's a lot more to his book than this, though, and it's well worth your while to get a copy and read it.

Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): In 20 words or less, what unquestionable benefit do you provide at a fair price to satisfied customers? Can you claim to be first, best, to have a wider range of inexpensive products, a smaller range of high-quality products, to be easier to transact with, more effective, more flexible than your competition? On the other hand, is there something that everyone in your industry does but nobody else mentions? That can be your USP, even though it's not unique.

The Communications Plan: Write down what (the market situation), who (your target groups - research through the Department of Statistics, blogs etc.), why (your USP), and how (your creative strategy and design).

Research why people go to your competitors, and why they stop going or are dissatisfied.

In your advertising, talk about benefits to the customer, not features.

Then put a twist on the concept.

Promote the business, not just the product.

Follow Winston Churchill's advice: Begin strongly, have one theme, use simple language, leave a picture in the reader's mind, and end dramatically.

Good advertising requires, in order of importance, information, time and money.

George Parker claims, of course, that you don't need to read any other book on advertising apart from his, but then he would. Any suggestions for other good books out there?

Friday 18 January 2008

Why will nobody tell me their price?

One thing that New Zealand websites in particular are very bad at is telling you basic stuff like hours and prices.

I've just been trying to find out what it costs to advertise on radio in New Zealand. I still don't really know; the only radio station that will tell me on their website is a Chinese station, which isn't my target market.

I did find Mediaworks, who have ratecards for advertising on radio stations' websites. But their page on actually advertising on radio is all about why it's a good idea - not how to do it or, crucially, how much it costs. Their Contact Us page doesn't even have an email link or any names; just a physical address and phone and fax numbers. (Yes, people still use faxes for business in New Zealand. Hello? Twenty-first century?)

I should not have to phone a possibly pushy salesperson in order to find out I can't afford something. It's a waste of their time and mine.

(Yes, I know. Lately I'm more the Irritable Man than the Innocent Man. I blame too little centering prayer. Seriously.)

Thursday 17 January 2008

Printing, shipping, and hoarded information

Unsatisfactory Lulu customer support experience this morning.

Not a problem with Lulu alone, of course; most "customer support" is like this. I contacted them to ask about their freight charges. Here's the chat transcript, with the identity of the agent obscured because it probably isn't her fault, and my email obscured because I get enough spam already. I don't have a transcript of the exact question I asked, but it was along these lines: "I've looked at the shipping charge for a bulk order to New Zealand and it seems very high. Can you please tell me the weight and dimensions of a parcel of 50 books, 6x9 of 128 pages, so that I can investigate other freight forwarding options for myself?"

Chat InformationWelcome to Lulu.com! An online representative will be with you shortly. Your wait time will be approximately 0 minute(s) and 8 seconds. Thank you for waiting.

Chat InformationYou are now chatting with '[Lulu agent]'

[Lulu agent]: Welcome to Lulu. Please hold while I review your question.

[Lulu agent]: We have not heard from you. Do you wish to continue the chat?

[me]: Yes, I was holding as you asked.

[Lulu agent]: Sorry the message is automated

[me]: OK


[me]: So do you have an answer to my question?

[Lulu agent]: Lulu charges actual shipping costs based on the size, type and weight of the item you are purchasing. The simplest way to see how much shipping would cost would be to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options.

[Lulu agent]: The best way to determine the cost of your book is to use the book cost calculator. You can obtain pricing for different trim sizes as well as see quantity discounts.

[Lulu agent]: http://www.lulu.com/includes/calc_book_inc.php

[me]: Yes, I've done that, that's how I know how much it is and it seems way too much. Sending it to California would cost $17.30; sending it to NZ costs $245. That's almost $5 a book. That's why I'd like the opportunity to see if I can find an alternative shipping method for myself.

[Lulu agent]: Here is a list of all the methods of shipping that we offer and how long they take.

[Lulu agent]: http://www.lulu.com/help/index.php?fSymbol=shipping_options_intl

[me]: I've seen that too. Are you going to answer the question I am asking, please?

[Lulu agent]: You have to follow the options that lulu offers

[me]: So you have no way of giving me the dimensions and weight of the package, even though that must be known in order to calculate the shipping at your end?

[Lulu agent]: Sorry, the only way is to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options

[me]: OK, clearly you aren't going to answer my question. Thanks anyway.

Since that conversation I've been poking around online and trying to find out how much the shipping would be with various providers - as best I could given that Lulu wouldn't tell me the size of the parcel, which is what the various online freight calculators ask you, of course, hence my call. As best I can determine that is actually what it costs to ship a parcel that size across the Pacific - it's $17.30 from Raleigh, North Carolina to Bakersfield, California, but it's about another $230 or so from there to New Zealand. No wonder everything's so expensive here (leaving aside the 12.5% goods and services tax the government puts on everything - yes, including books).
This would mean that either I have to sell the books for about $20 each or I'll hardly make anything from each one.

My sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece are flying over in June, but it seems a bit much to ask them to bring a parcel which probably weighs between 25lb and 45lb - I don't know exactly, because Lulu won't tell me - plus I don't want to wait until June to get them.

Geography still matters in the modern world, when you're shipping atoms rather than bits.

It may be worth my while to check out that local short-run printer and see what they can do for me - even if their per-unit price is higher the shipping may balance it out. They don't have a rate card or a cost calculator online, which is one of my pet peeves - they must have a rate card somewhere, so why not share it with their customers? Saves everyone a lot of messing about.

Information age, people. Information age. Don't lock up the information, it wants to be free.

EDIT: the local New Zealand printer (Zenith Print) quotes me $568.13 (including GST and shipping, with a free proof) for 50 copies. It means setting up the files slightly differently again and means I will have books at three different sizes from three different printers, but it saves me about $140 over the 50 copies, or almost $3 a unit, when you take exchange rates into account (and exchange rates USD/NZD are the most in our favour that they've been since about the 1980s at the moment; if they drop again the difference is bigger). I'm also dealing with one, real person in my own timezone, who answers emails quickly.

I did tell her that I probably would have enquired earlier if they had their rates up on their website - she had said in response to my initial inquiry:

"The reason we don't have a rate card is because there is no SET pricing we offer. The quote request allows us to communicate with the customer, ensure we are getting the best product for them. I'll do the maths and have a quote back within 15 minutes."

Which she couldn't do unless she had a rate card. Could she?

How good will their service be? Watch this space.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

City of Masks for sale on Lulu

You can now buy City of Masks on Lulu. I had just finished recording the next podcast episode and was about to start editing when there was a pounding on the door, and there was the courier with a very large and well-packed package, containing my proof. As far as I can see there are no printing errors, so - the book is officially available.


The CreateSpace corrected version is on its way to me now and should arrive this week (based on past performance). Based on the emails I got from their support people, they went through exactly the same steps this time as last time, suggesting that they need to improve their ability as a "learning organization" so that they only have to fix problems once.

Once that proof arrives, I'll do a major post comparing Lulu and CreateSpace step-by-step, feature-by-feature. At the moment I have to say I wouldn't be using CreateSpace except for the access they give to Amazon (and their audiobook and multi-disk CD capabilities), but their site is somewhat less cluttered and, for me, slightly easier to use.

I had fewer (in fact, no) printing hassles with Lulu, whose pricing is slightly better for single books and much better for bulk.

(Their freight prices to NZ are just ridiculous, though. If I get 50 books shipped to NZ, it's $245.16 (USD) for shipping and it'll cost me $14 (NZD) per unit in total, for printing, postage and packaging. Shipped to US: $31.60 (USD) for shipping, $8.58 (NZD) per unit. Actually, if I select USPS Media Mail instead of UPS as my shipping option, it's only $17.30 (USD) for shipping and $8.21 (NZD) per unit. So I'll be asking my parents-in-law if I can trans-ship through their address in California. There's no way it'll be over $200 for them to send the package on here.)

I know that others' experiences may well differ; anyone want to share Lulu or CreateSpace stories, good or bad?

Monday 14 January 2008

Marketing and Advertising Books

Marketing and advertising are topics on my mind recently. I have a small hypnotherapy practice that I'd like to turn into a larger one, and a self-published book about to come out.

This involves a bit of a mental shift for me, since for years I've despised marketing and advertising. What I'm discovering is that marketing and advertising people are not all empty-headed, annoying liars after all; it's just 99% of them giving the rest a bad name.

I've got some books from the library to help me, and here are some brief reviews.

Promoting Your Podcast: The Ultimate Guide to Building an Audience of Raving Fans by Jason Van Orden is one of those rare "how-to" books that is almost pure gold from beginning to end - the over-the-top claim in the subtitle is not entirely unjustified. It's packed with useful tips and knowledge, step-by-step instructions and ideas. Of course, because it's a printed book and podcasting is an online medium, even though it was published in 2006 it's already becoming a little out of date - a few of the sites he mentions have changed or disappeared, and I'm sure more will do so as time goes on. But apart from the specific guidance for how to use particular sites, there is also a lot of good advice on podcasting per se, which will remain relevant for a long time. I'm podcasting my novel City of Masks as a promotional tool, and wouldn't be doing so anything like as effectively if I hadn't read this book.

Pair that up with What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting: Real-Life Advice from 101 People Who Successfully Leverage the Power of the Blogosphere by Ted Demopoulos. Again, packed with good stuff - Demopoulos interviewed over a hundred people who are using blogs for business, and there's some excellent advice here (along with a little bit that you can probably take with grains of salt). It's led me to start yet another blog, Living Skillfully, on my hypnotherapy website, with the aim of increasing traffic and connecting more directly with my potential clients (as well as sharing useful tips, ideas and news about mind-body work, health and self-improvement, naturally). He covers business uses for blogs and podcasts, planning, making money and promoting and tracking your stats.

One tip I picked up from both these books: use Feedburner. It's a free service that provides all kinds of tracking and additional promotion resources for your blog or podcast feed.

I dipped into The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products, but it's written by marketing academics - which is to say, a lot of it is empty of actual meaning when translated into English, and much of the rest is unsupported guesswork.

Simultaneously confirming my prejudices about the advertising industry and helping me with practical ways to get people to know about my products and services is Madscam by George Parker, an advertising creative who has no time for the "big dumb agencies" which hang out on Madison Avenue, wasting the money of large corporates. His blogs Adscam and AdHurl, at a casual glance, are just vulgar abuse being heaped on advertising agencies, but his book is a lot more useful. Not only does it (amusingly) give examples of what big corporates and their ad agencies do wrong, but it tells you how to do it right, how to plan and implement an advertising strategy that will be cost-effective and will help you build your business. I'm looking forward to putting the advice into practice.

Saturday 12 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

The big story on last night's news was that Sir Ed has died, aged 88. I watched the documentary they screened afterwards and discovered that this self-effacing man had had self-confidence problems when young; he'd been a small, skinny child, and even immediately after he climbed Everest, was knighted, and was the hero of the moment throughout the British Commonwealth and the world, he didn't have enough confidence to propose to his girlfriend - he had to get her mother to ring her up and ask for him.

He really was the archetypal New Zealander - unselfconfident when young, hesitant in expressing emotion, rugged and outdoorsy, adventurous, down-to-earth (the leader of the Everest expedition was hoping for some words of "spiritual significance" when he came down off the summit, but what he got was Ed's remark to his fellow New Zealander: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.") Instead of cashing in on fame for his own benefit he spent decades helping to build schools, medical clinics and hospitals for the people of Nepal. He struggled deeply for a time with depression and self-doubt.

My own Sir Ed story is slight but indicative. When I was editing New Zealand Who's Who, in order to increase sales to entrants the publisher included a lot of people who weren't really who at all; small-town people who'd been on volunteer committees for years on end and got some sort of minor recognition for it. This is the other side of the NZ character, the side that forms a committee and spends the next 20 years waging tiny, inefficient vendettas on it over matters of staggering unimportance. When I got draft entries back from these people they were often covered in poorly punctuated amendments, adding copious unimportant detail or pointlessly changing the order of information (which was set by house style). Some even included CVs.

Sir Edmund was, undoubtedly, at the time the most famous living New Zealander, the only one whose image appeared on the currency, known, respected and admired all over the world for his genuinely impressive achievements both adventurous and charitable. If anyone could have justifiably added detail to his entry, it was him.

He just signed it and sent it back.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

I'm in iTunes, and other book news

The first episode of the City of Masks podcast is up, and can be found in iTunes. That's pretty exciting.

I'm having some problems recording the second episode - getting clipping of the sound for some reason.

Once I have five episodes, I can load them up to podiobooks.com (they've already approved my first episode as meeting their quite high standards).

On the race between Lulu and CreateSpace, so far we have:

Submitted: Thursday 3 January (both)
Ordered: Thursday 3 January (Lulu), Saturday 5 January (CreateSpace) - because CreateSpace has a manual checking process before you can order.
Shipped: Saturday 5 January (CreateSpace), Tuesday 8 January (Lulu). So CreateSpace achieved same-day shipping, while Lulu took 5 days.

Judging by previous experience, the CreateSpace one could be here today or tomorrow, at which point (all being well) the book will go on sale via CreateSpace and Amazon. Which is thrilling.

EDIT 10 January: Well, CreateSpace wins the race, except that they have sent me a proof with the same issue as the first proof I got - all the ligatures and apostrophes have dropped out. This is a mark against them, getting the same thing wrong twice on the same title - they need to tighten up their procedures. So no book for sale just yet.

Hopefully the Lulu proof won't have the same problem (or any others). It should arrive about Monday or Tuesday judging by the CreateSpace one's transit time.

EDIT 16 January: It was actually Wednesday, i.e. today, and I have another post comparing my experience with Lulu and CreateSpace so far.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Dual-wielding Lulu and CreateSpace

Erin finished reading my CreateSpace proof copy of City of Masks yesterday (the replacement one that they sent after they sorted out why the ligatures were disappearing), so today I made the edits, re-uploaded the files, and also uploaded the Lulu versions. I made the mistake of setting the size for the CreateSpace edition, completely arbitrarily, to 8.5 x 5.5 inches, and that's a size that Lulu doesn't offer. Next time it'll be 9 x 6 for both and I'll be able to use the same interior file (though I'll still have to make a small change to the cover, as CreateSpace has more trim on their cover spec than Lulu).

I'm using both services because CreateSpace gets me into Amazon for free, but Lulu gives me much better discounts for bulk orders - they cut in earlier (at 26 copies instead of 50) and are more generous, so it's worth my while to put the book through them as well so that I can order bulk copies to sell directly off my website, to give to people who helped me by offering critique, to send out for review, give to my family and all the rest of the things one does.

There weren't very many changes. One was to the blurb, which was originally written before I finished the book. Blurbs are traditionally written last of all (I know, because when I worked as a book editor I was several times called on at the last moment to do so). So I souped it up following her suggestions. It now uses the keywords "adventure" and "Shakespeare".

Another was slightly embarrassing. Erin didn't know what "barratry" was (in a short list of crimes), and when she asked me, I had to confess that I wasn't sure either, but I thought it was some sort of violent crime, like assault. "You really shouldn't use words that you don't know the meaning of," she said, and as is so often* the case, she was right. I looked it up today. The connection with assault was all in my head (probably because it sounds like "battery"). It's the crime of, among other things, sinking a ship in order to claim the insurance. So I changed it to "assault".

I want to write in depth on the differences between the two print-on-demand houses, but a couple of them I found today: Lulu have automatic, immediate checking that your uploaded cover file is the right size (because of an error I'd made - confusing points and pixels - mine wasn't). CreateSpace's checking is apparently manual, or at least batched overnight.

The other difference is that CreateSpace insists that you receive and sign off a proof before you can release the book; Lulu suggests that it's a really good idea to get one before selling, but you don't have to.

So now the two are racing, since I uploaded the files immediately after one another. Who will win?

*But not always. Sorry, Chook.