Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Everyone Lies in Business

So it's really come to this.

Honestly, I couldn't decide whether to write a big old "fuck you" to Stan Kroenke (who I imagine will enjoy dining with Pol Pot and Hitler in ten years or less), to take the high road on this one, or to try to split the difference.

The more I thought about it, what good will calling Stan Kroenke a "small, petty man who uses his billions to try to compensate for other areas of his (ahem) life" accomplish?

What good would it be to call Roger Goodell a "no good liar who has now sympathized with chronic domestic abusers and cheats, all in the pursuit of the almighty yankee dollar?"

No, that's not the approach I need to take now that it's final that the Rams are, in fact, moving to Los Angeles next season.

Instead, let me impart a lesson that guided me through this entire process, from start to finish, and held my attention like a slow-motion car crash throughout:

Everyone lies.

Especially in business.

We had sportswriters on every side of this thing trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't. Desperately trying to sort the B.S. from the truth.

But what does that fact tell you, right on its face? It means that, implicitly, there was a LOT of B.S. floating around the pool for the entire past year!

The NFL telling #STLNFL to "keep doing what you're doing."

(Never mind the two hand slaps the league office tried to levy against the Task Force. The NFL said it, so it MUST be true!)

The numerous reports that "Carson has 26 votes!"

(Even though on the first secret ballot, that support proved about as real as Pam Anderson's tits).

Roger Goodell's long-winded "fuck-off!" to St. Louis at last year's Super Bowl presser:

None of it mattered. And as I suspected from the start, it was for that very reason above:

Everyone lies.

As a licensed attorney, I've known this all too long. Your opponent lies. Opposing counsel lies. Your own client lies. Everyone involved in a business transaction lies at some point.

It's disheartening for good, hardworking folks to hear. I understand that. I've always been keen on the "handshake agreement" myself. That my word should be good enough to cement a deal under almost any circumstances.

But there's a reason that a handshake deal often doesn't hold up in court. There's a reason that contracts exist and "get it in writing" is the mantra of any business owner.

It's because people are dishonest. Yes, Stan Kroenke most certainly is. The statement he released is absolutely sickening:

“This has been the most difficult process of my professional career,” Kroenke said. “While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet. St. Louis is a city known for its incredibly hard-working, passionate and proud people. Being part of the group that brought the NFL back to St. Louis in 1995 is one of the proudest moments of my professional career. Reaching two Super Bowls and winning one are things all St. Louisans should always treasure.

“While there understandably has been emotionally charged commentary regarding our motives and intentions, the speculation is not true and unfounded,” Kroenke said. “I am a Missouri native named after two St. Louis sports legends who I was fortunate enough to know on a personal level. This move isn’t about whether I love St. Louis or Missouri. I do and always will. No matter what anyone says, that will never change. This decision is about what is in the best long-term interests of the Rams organization and the National Football League. We have negotiated in good faith with the Regional Sports Authority for more than a decade trying to find a viable and sustainable solution. When it became apparent that we might not be able to reach an agreement, it was then and only then that we looked at alternatives.”

What a prick.

Keep chasing those dollars, Stan. I'm sure it will buy you one of the nicest funerals you've ever seen, maybe at the 50 yard line in that new stadium you're so generously building in Inglewood. 

Oh wait, you won't get to see your own funeral? You won't get to take your billions with you after you, like everyone else in this world, croak?

(Don't worry Stan--I don't need to go to your funeral. I just want to know where you're buried. You know...so I can pis bring flowers every year.)

This is the ultimate dishonesty, to practically stand on the arch and piss on the town's citizens and then tell them "Oh, no, that was a hell of a rainstorm, wasn't it?"

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Kevin Demoff was a loyal soldier and truth concealer throughout this entire process. Whenever I've questioned Kevin's motives among my peers, it's always been met with a "Yeah, but he's just doing his job..." 

Where have I heard that one before?

What happened to morals, Kevin? What happened to "doing the right thing?" They may seem like foreign concepts to you, but honestly, right now, I'm embarrassed that my alma mater can claim you as one of its own.

Unfortunately, I knew that these guys were lying from about a year ago on. Few listened, mind you, but that's just the truth. Thems the breaks.

But what could we do about it? When confronted, team officials consistently denied that any of this was going on. Stan was too cowardly to even face reporters. THEMS SO SCARY WIT' THEM QUESTIONS AND WHATNOT!

As media members, all we can do is ask questions. And if we don't like an answer, we can follow up. We can check and cross-check sources to our hearts' content, but that doesn't mean that what they're peddling is worth any more than what I just left in the toilet.

And it's left to us to figure out the degree to which everyone's lying. Honestly, that's been the best skill that I've developed through covering the Rams--knowing when someone is full of shit, and when to read between the lines. Sometimes the lies have been more egregious than others, but overall, they've all served the league's agenda: move the Rams back to L.A. Have to hit more women that $25 billion number, right Roger?

So if you take anything away from this move, if you take any of this into your business and private life, make it this:

Everyone lies. Some are better than others at it. But learn to separate the true scumbags from the posturers.

The posturers won't look you in the eye.

The scumbags will.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

How to Solve the Corporate Inversion / Jobs Dilemma

I know it's been a while, but honestly I've been working on a lot of stuff. So sue me. (Please don't sue me).

One of the problems I'm always rolling around in the back of my head is how to make more jobs for ordinary, hard-working folks in this country. This is especially true in light of the coming automation of a number of jobs that have traditionally formed the backbone of the U.S. labor force.

There's also a problem with corporate inversions, whereby (and this is incredibly simplistic) companies create offshore shell companies and transfer all assets to them in an effort to skirt the somewhat draconian U.S. tax laws.

Nothing I've seen on either issue has really moved the needle for me. Until now...

You see, tonight I spent a long time thinking about this stuff. (Yes, it's a Saturday night, and I'm a loser, and blah blah blah, but I actually had a moment of clarity while watching the Blues game with buddies tonight).

I think I've come up with a solution.

Here goes:

For every "full-time job" (let's say $40,000 salary + $10,000 benefits = $50,000) a company has, they get a $30,000 tax credit/deduction/whatever is more advantageous to them.

It doesn't matter if the employee makes $40,000 (plus benefits) or $3 million. Each employee counts for one unit under this scheme. Obviously the figures would be tied to a cost of living increase, 

Maybe the numbers are off, but I'm looking for a tax system where companies are rewarded for the number of jobs they create as opposed to profits they generate. Profits go to shareholders. The public very likely never sees a dime. How do we create a benefit for the common working man or woman? 

Make it worth the company's while!

Essentially, you shift any "entitlement burden" from the state (where everyone, rich and poor pays in) to companies, who could absolutely use more help, but who are incentivized at present to wring increasingly more out of employees while hundreds of thousands go unemployed, not paying taxes, and feeling pretty awful about themselves.

Why not make it so that in light of dwindling traditional jobs, we entice companies to hire folks as opposed to trying to wring more blood from the stone? Honestly, I think this is a happy medium between the wholly Libertarian crowd and some more progressive ideas. 

Of course, there are a bunch of questions already:

1) How do you prevent cronyism? Like a company just hiring a bunch of its CEO's kids?

Honestly, I think this is a bigger issue for small businesses than the behemoths. Let's say Jerry's Shoe World has Marla, Edith, Luanne, and Goober as employees, all relatives. Should Jerry get tax protection for hiring all of his relatives? 

Here's the problem: you can come up with a bunch of regulations w/r/t hiring practices, and it really doesn't matter ultimately. All it does is impose a bunch of B.S. on Jerry, who will find a way to hire Luanne anyway.

On the other hand, at least Jerry is paying these folks cash. They will, ostensibly, use that cash on rent, food, entertainment, and utilities (no, I'm not a hopeless Monopoly fan). 

But at the same time, I don't want Bob Sears to hire 150 Sears descendants to "keep the store," especially since Sears is in TROUBLE...from what I've heard...

2) There aren't enough $40,000 jobs out there!

I disagree with this one. I think that companies would find this new plan a lot easier to work with than the current plan. As such, hopefully a company with a lot of cash on hand (cough, cough, APPLE, cough, cough), would CREATE more $40,000 jobs to avoid the punitive tax system we have in the U.S.

3) How would this be more appealing than corporate inversion?

I'm not some "pie-in-the sky" idiot who thinks that companies will take this up regardless of whether it's good for them or not. I'm not an accountant, either. I don't know all of the ins and outs. But we DO need to do something to keep Americans employed and companies around.

But what I do know is that if we increase incentives to keep American jobs around, or even to create new American jobs, I honestly couldn't care less if companies are headquartered in Charlotte or Dublin. If we have more jobs, we have more taxpayers. Really, in some ways it comes down to shifting employer ideas about what constitutes "a job" more than anything else. This is just the first step.

Our current plan isn't working. We need some "out there" potential solutions. The President and the numerous frontrunners have entire TEAMS dedicated to this stuff. In all honesty, I just hope to catch an eye and go from there.

So there's my pitch. Questions? Comments? You know where to leave them...


Monday, February 9, 2015

There is Zero Chance Stan Kroenke Will Only Be a Landlord in Inglewood

One of the "kookier" theories I've seen bandied about in the whole Rams-St. Louis-Inglewood stadium brouhaha is that for some reason, Stan Kroenke is partnering with Stockbridge Capital to be a landlord for another NFL team (or two) in Los Angeles, while retaining ownership of the Rams in St. Louis.


This notion is more ridiculous than stuff I've seen on Ancient Aliens.

(Side note: great show. Even if most of it's B.S., a good 25% of the stuff makes you think, "what if?")

Why would the NFL let a competitor own another team's facility? That's like letting Ben and Jerry's own the physical plant of a Baskin Robbins store. You think that store would be tops on the list for general maintenance, fumigation, interior design, heating, cooling, etc.?

To make it more about the NFL, what if the Rams had a pivotal week 17 game against the L.A. Chargers in Stan's new stadium? If the owner was properly motivated to win (and hey, that's a valid objection here because hey, it's Stan...), wouldn't he do everything in his power to mess with the opponent? A convenient "glitch" in the hot water or AC on game day? A pest infestation? A convenient "mis-delivery" of the team's toradol supply before the game?

The possibilities are endless...

Of course, I'm being somewhat hyperbolic. One can only imagine "Stanley Whiplash" twirling his mustache in his ill-fitting suit as he sneaks into the home team's supply closet to grease up their footballs.

But the point about maintenance and upkeep is absolutely valid. Where's the incentive for that? Once the lease is signed, where's the incentive to keep up the facilities?

Would we see another "top-tier" clause in the lease?

Unfortunately, this kind of speculation is thrown out there by the NFL to further reinforce their own image as "one business," not 32 competing businesses for antitrust purposes.

It's a long-standing battle that the league has waged to garner expansive antitrust protection.

("More boring legal stuff?" You're damned right more boring legal stuff! Listen, I don't want it to be this way any more than you do. I got out of the law for a reason. But when I see people hold themselves out as "knowledgeable" on a topic like franchise relocation, when they've at worst not done any research, or at best just lap up whatever's slopped at them from various sources like pigs at a trough, it drives me insane).

The league has a vested interest as being treated as one, large "football" organization with 32 different retail outlets. Doing so means that "everyone's under the same umbrella," like Burger King or Midas--the franchises, while ostensibly competing week-to-week on the field, are all considered one big, happy family off the field.

Conveniently, this would afford the NFL somewhat greater protection under the antitrust laws.

Unfortunately for them, time-and-time again, federal courts have rules that the league is actually 32 competing franchises that are absolutely subject to federal antitrust laws.

This may not seem like a big distinction to the average fan, but think of it this way in the context of stadium ownership:

If you accept the NFL's "one body" theory, then Stan owning the Chargers' Inglewood stadium is like one McDonald's franchise owner owning the physical plant of another McDonald's.

If you take the more realistic, "32 competitors" view, it's like Burger King owning that same McDonald's.

You can see how, despite contractual assurances to the contrary, the occasional corner might get cut.

In a similar vein, word came down earlier today that the NFL is forming a committee of owners dedicated to the "L.A. issue."

While I applaud them on trying to control the narrative, their naïveté on the relocation issue is heartwarming, in that "puppy doesn't know that the 'creature under the covers' is just your leg" sort of way.

If the courts maintain the "32 competitors" view of the league, to restrict territories and movement of franchises would almost certainly be a violation of the antitrust laws against restraining trade to protect competition. As much as Rams fans around St. Louis love the team, wouldn't the team be better able to compete in L.A., where revenues would be far more readily available in the form of consistently-full premium seating and the associated benefits?

That's what really gets me; the league is banking on Stan to "maintain protocol" and "not rock the boat." They've gone so far as to create a "peer pressure committee" to try to intimidate their fellow owners from not horning in on their own self-proclaimed market.

As I've consistently maintained for months, if not years, the NFL isn't above the laws of the United States of America. They can keep harping about how they control the L.A. market, how each owner will have to go through "several approvals" to get to L.A.

When the rubber meets the road, though, I doubt the league is willing to go to court on an antitrust case potentially worth $3 billion in lost valuation and profits, should they push Stan too far (antitrust cases are unique in that they provide triple damages to a successful plaintiff).

The law is pretty clearly on Stan's side, and absent outright buying a judge, the league has to know this, too.

They're puffing themselves up pretty well right now, but ultimately, the league can't think they have the authority to really beat down one of their own, cross-ownership rules or not.

Ultimately, this is a long-winded way of saying that Stan Kroenke has 4 options:

1) Keep the Rams in St. Louis with the Peacock plan, and sell the Inglewood plan to Spanos or Mark Davis

2) Keep the Inglewood plan and move the Rams out to L.A. to be tenants

3) Sell the Rams and buy another team to become the Inglewood tenant

4) Sell the Rams and enjoy the NFL as a landlord only.

I suppose there could be more, but these are the most likely in my opinion. But to conjure up outlandish scenarios where he owns one team, but plays landlord to another?

Man, I could use your help on some story ideas...

Monday, January 19, 2015

For the Ladies Looking For Love: 4 Ways to Get "Mr. Right" to Message Your Online Dating Profile

Believe it or not, I'm currently single.

I know, I know: "Really?"

Yes, it's true. And like too many people my age, I've joined the cadre of online daters in the St. Louis area, exploring territory long ago vacated by my buddy Dave from the on-life-support Bottle and Cans podcast.

I've met some great ladies on the site, but for whatever reason, things haven't worked out as of yet.

I blame it on bad targeting by the sites. I've been a "90%+ match" for a fair number of these girls, and yet when we meet up, the chemistry just isn't there for whatever reason, or the spark inevitably fades after a few short dates.

It's tough being a dude on these sites. No, I'm not talking about the idea of "putting myself out there"--I say stupid shit on the radio all the time, I've written controversial books, I'm a freelancer in sales and marketing. Let's just say that I long ago got used to being kicked in the junk by complete strangers--no hard feelings, folks.

What I AM talking about is the incredible similarity among ladies' online dating profiles.

Don't get me wrong--I know that reasonably attractive women on these sites get an unbelievable number of "Hey girl...what's up?" (or worse) "Wanna see my wiener?"-type messages. It has to be tough to sift through the garbage.

But as a (I think) eligible, creative, educated, okay-looking guy, it's also incredibly difficult to sift through all of the girls with some variation of the following profile:

"I'm a strong, independent woman with X job. I love to travel and see new places--looking for a partner in crime for new adventures. I love my family, and hope to find the same in a guy. Looking for someone who can make me laugh--laughter is the best medicine, after all."

Unfortunately, more often than not, I'll skip right on by these profiles.

Not because anything these ladies wrote was offensive.

In fact, it's quite the opposite.

There's no character here. Nothing to tell me anything about these girls that wouldn't better be said on a first date. Let's fisk this profile line by line:

"I'm a strong, independent woman with X job" Great stuff...but it's weird for us to reach out to you and write out a question about your job over email. Honestly, even though I have a more flexible and enjoyable work arrangement than most, I cherish my off-hours, and am looking for a partner to fill THOSE with...err..."with whom to fill those." NOT someone who's going to be bringing work home with them all the time and put their job ahead of me. Though ambitious, I work to live--I'm looking for someone who does the same.

"I love to travel and see new places--looking for a partner in crime for new adventures." Again, this prompts a question that would be better handled on a first date. Every time I've had a back-and-forth with a girl on a dating site, and I've asked about traveling, it's ended the conversation. Period. Whether it's the first thing I mention, or 3-4 messages down the road. I don't know if it comes across as "intimidating" or whatever, but it's a dead end.

"I love my family, and am looking for the same in a guy." This is late first date, maybe even second date territory. I'm not going to gush about my Uncle Goober and Cousin Athena over an online dating message system--if nothing else, it's a turn-off.

"Looking for someone who can make me laugh--laughter is the best medicine after all." Whattaya want, a knock-knock joke? I love comedy, love standup and comedy podcasts, really enjoy laughing...at stuff that's actually funny. But this gives me no frame of reference for your sense of humor, what you find funny, or anything along those lines. I'm shooting in the dark, here!

So what's the point of all of this? How can these bitter truths benefit women in the long run? With a few simple changes, you can cut the creeps out, and have a better chance of finding "Mr. Right."

1) Men Are Looking For "Hooks:" A "hook," in the copywriting biz, at least, is something that a prospect can respond to. Something that absolutely begs a question or further explanation. Something that teases the mind and gets the "prospects" (interested, put-together dudes) thinking about how to respond.

You can frame a hook by taking a controversial stance on something, by saying something objectively "weird" about yourself, or otherwise trying to entice "the right kind of guy" to buy into your profile.

They don't have to be fancy. Examples of good hooks include:

"I insist on camping without a tent."

"I've learned that a night spent in St. Petersburg is one night too many."

"I've forgotten how to ride a bike."

(Note: I use this one in my profile, because it's true. If I find a like-minded lady...all bets are off...)

Notice how a lot of these are pretty declarative? More on that in a minute...

The important thing is to give guys a lot of openings to ask thoughtful questions that they can put a witty spin on..."on which they can put a witty spin..."


2) Separate the Wheat From the Chaff

Getting too many "Hey girl...what's up?" messages? There's a simple solution that you may not have thought of yet, as abridged from Mark Manson on his fine book, Models:

-Polarize, Polarize, Polarize...

Let's face it, we all have a tendency to try to gain acceptance from any potential new partner. We laugh and agree with a lot of their statements while secretly we think "Wow, I can't believe he/she said that...well...maybe it'll work anyway..."

I say you should not only embrace these thoughts, but also pre-empt them whenever possible. Go ahead and let guys know some of the "weirder" things that you're all about. Granted, you probably shouldn't put your deepest, darkest secrets up on an online dating profile, but go ahead and embrace some of the "wackier" things about you.

While it runs counter to a lot of things that you've been taught, the important thing is that once you have something "different" up there, you can screen for the non-profile readers better, and qualify yourself to guys who really get you.

That's not to say you should "next" someone at the first sign of disagreement. Rather you should use potentially controversial thoughts and beliefs you might have as a screening mechanism to clear out the creeps and idiots.

(Unless you like the creeps and idiots...)


(Let's move on...)

Also, let's not discount the role that good looks play in online dating. Obviously, there's a baseline of good looks that you're willing to give a shot. Sorry, but that's the way it is...

3) Show, Don't Tell
This is an old fiction writer's saw. Instead of saying "I like to travel," tell me about some of the adventures you've had. I know that if you like to travel, there have to be some good stories--it comes with the territory.

Spell some of them out! Talk about that awesome hike you went on, or that reef you scuba-dived on. Putting pics of these things up isn't necessarily enough. Believe it or not, not every guy will diligently go through every one of your pics and captions and try to divine a hook from there. Paint a picture--let us know that there's some life behind the "sterile profile" with which we're often presented (see, I'm learning).

4) Personality is King

I don't know how many girls I've engaged or responded to because they had a tangible "personality" in their profile. Something other than the standard "stuff" I outlined above. Something that got it, and may have pissed some other guys off, but sucked me in.

Was I necessarily Mr. Right for them? No, not by any stretch.

But at least they got my attention. 

At least they separated themselves from the legions of ladies out there with no discernible differentiating qualities.

That's the real key--set yourself apart from the pack. While attention from random dudes may be nice (and I'm speaking as a guy who gets some random attention from the ladies), if you're on a dating site, and especially a paid dating site, you need to get your money's worth. Make the site work for you. Go for a drink at a public place. Say something "ridiculous." Push the envelope a bit. Have fun. Online dating can seem like a grind a lot of times--go ahead and turn that on its head. Enjoy it for chrissake.

Follow these basic steps, and I assure you, you'll be on the fast track to sifting out the morons and finding "Mr. Right" sooner rather than later.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Do People Line Up to Be Cogs in the Machine?

I just don't get it.

I see the same story time and time again.

Very bright young person is ready to conquer the world...

All kinds of "crazy" or "out there" ideas of how to do so...

Then slowly, the machine comes calling.

At first, it's an easy sell:

"Need a place to live? Need stuff? Need COMFORT? Need Entertainment? The machine will provide green pieces of paper to help you out!"

"Oh? I like those things...these green pieces of paper intrigue me..." you think.

But then you get there. Trading hours for dollars. Doing nothing that fulfills you personally, but that has great "value" for the machine.

Before you know it, the responsibilities start to pile up: rent...a car payment...a significant other...a dog...a house...a kid...the kid needs to go to college...etc...

All so those gears can keep on churning, the cogs can help the machine keep on running.

Do you ever ask WHY we do these things?

WHY the machine MUST be maintained?

What's the machine's goal, anyway?

Who are you ultimately doing favors for? What do you want to accomplish with your life?

My guess is that it's not making more green pieces of paper for someone else...


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How I Gave Away Over 2,000 Books on Kindle in 3 Days Without Any Prep Work

As many of you know, I co-edited an anthology of sci-fi and fantasy short stories this year with my good friend and fellow author J.M. Ney-Grimm.

The result is Quantum Zoo, a book near and dear to our hearts, and the hearts of the ten other writers who contributed excellent stories to the collection.

If you want to read more about how J.M. and I put it together and released it (including some harrowing moments in Logan Airport trying desperately to get my phone to talk to my computer), you can take a look at the "nuts and bolts" of the launch over on esteemed fantasy author Lindsay Buroker's blog.

We were able to craft an excellent launch using our collective promotional talents--we made it to #1 "Hot New Release" in Science Fiction in all of Amazon, as well as charting in "top 5" territory on several other Amazon bestseller lists.

All of us involved with QZ were thrilled--we never dreamed that the launch would be quite so successful.

But that was only half the battle.

You see, part of the impetus for releasing Quantum Zoo was that we wanted to get it in the hands of as many people as possible using a variety of promotional methods to see what works to promote fiction these days, and what doesn't.

To those ends, we put the book in Kindle Select for its initial 90-day term, and figured we'd get around to setting up a free promo at some point.

Of course, life got in the way, and before I knew it, we found ourselves scrambling in September with only three potential promo days left!

J.M. and I worked tirelessly to brainstorm some ways to give more books away--after all, we didn't want to do QZ or our fellow authors a disservice by watching a piddly 30 or 40 people download it for absolutely free!

So we came up with a gameplan that was part foresight, part improv, and a good amount of luck.

And we gave away over 2,000 books on KDP Select over the course of those three days!

The good news is, the "luck" portion of our formula is pretty easily to replicate if you have the foresight to implement it several weeks before your free promo...but more on that later.

So what kinds of strategies did we use to give away so many books in such a short amount of time?

1) Get a Killer Cover

The days of "not judging a book by its cover" are long gone. For a lot of readers, a professional-looking cover is the first indication of quality in a publishing world filled with increasing amounts of people who don't take the business terribly seriously.

It doesn't have to be "flashy" or "garish," but a professional-looking cover will set your books apart from the "mountain of crap" out there that so many people complain about.

What this means is that you need to do one of two things:

-Take the time and effort to learn how to put a truly professional-looking cover together. Invest in the right tools (like inDesign) and skills (like Dean Wesley Smith's excellent cover class) to gain the ability to pique readers' interest and draw them in with the cover alone.


-Hire someone to do it for you. This might run you anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the artist.

Fortunately, for Quantum Zoo, J.M. is a talented graphic artist and cover designer. The finished product, seen here, is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. We've received a lot of compliments on it--J.M. really outdid herself on this one. And while it's great for her to be able to know she's done great work and receive those compliments, it's the kind of dynamic cover that looks professional and piques readers' curiosity enough to click through to its Amazon page.

2) Choose THE RIGHT Keywords

Amazon only allows KDP authors to use 7 keywords (in addition to the keywords in the title) to promote your book in their vast search engine. 

 At first, it can be a daunting task--which 7 words do you choose as a new author? I remember using plot-related keywords with JWATT at first, things like "dinosaur hunt," "Isaac Newton," etc.

Over time, that sense of enormity has shrunken down to something more akin to "frustration." For the longest time, it seemed like no matter which keywords I chose, there was little or no effect on sales.

In promoting Quantum Zoo, J.M. and I had a bit of an epiphany, probably spurred on in one of our brains by David Gaughran's excellent book, Let's Get Visible:

Make the keywords Amazon subcategories, or at least related to those subcategories.

You see, Amazon puts fiction books into a vast web of categories and subcategories. I want to say that about a year ago, they vastly increased the size of this web, with a whole bunch of new subcategories. For a while, it seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to where a given book ended up--Jesus Was a Time Traveler (JWATT) was in Time Travel, Technothrillers, and a few others for a while. Rogue ended up in "hard sci fi."

I think it was Gaughran who advocated making these new desired subcategories keywords themselves, to ensure that your book got in the subcategories you wanted. Essentially, you get the 7 keywords, plus the 2 categories you can select in KDP, plus whatever Amazon's algos glean from your title.

The reasoning? This is the key part of the strategy! The more categories and subcategories the book is in, the better the chance it has to appear in a given top 100 list for that category or subcategory. The more top 100 lists the book appears in, the more visible it is to people who browse those top 100 lists for their next reads.

We actually followed this strategy with Quantum Zoo--since we have a lot of different takes on sci-fi and fantasy, we have a lot of potential genres we could be in. So we listed a bunch of them out: "first contact," "technothrillers," etc. in addition to picking the obvious "sci-fi anthologies" as one of our Amazon genre selections.

And this is also where the "luck" portion of the strategy came in. While we recognized the utility of being in as many different genres as possible for keyword searching purposes, we didn't understand just how important being on those top 100 lists for both paid and free purposes was until we saw the results of our promo.

The strategy definitely helped us come out guns blazing--we noticed that the higher we got on those genre top 100 lists, the more books we sold, to a point, at least.

But it's exponentially more important to be on the top 100 lists when giving away your book for free! That's because as a "crap filter," even the free book hoarders will scour the top 100 lists, using them as a form of "social proof" for which books are decent, and thus "worthy" (of a free download, no less!). The more lists you're on, the more you can put the algos to work for you, and the better the chance you have of getting downloads.

The more downloads you get, the more potential reviews you get on both Amazon and Goodreads, and the more word of mouth you might start to generate.

About a month after publication, though, when reading up on the topic a bit more, I came across the following helpful page:

Amazon Categories with Keyword Requirements

In a rare look "inside the algorithms," Amazon essentially has given us the tools to craft titles and use keywords to drill down into some previously esoteric sub-subcategories. I've since tried using some of these terms in my books, and while it can take a few weeks for Amazon to index them with your book, it works.

Now that you know just how important those keywords can be, have fun looking through the list for some ideas on what words you can use to get your next book in as many different categories as possible.

3) Plan a Weekend Giveaway

Just by dumb luck, our giveaway was slated to begin on a Friday and end on a Sunday. After putting the tricks in this post to good use, I can unequivocally say that weekend days (meaning Friday-Sunday) are more popular for free giveaways than weekday days, absent any sort of outside promotion such as Bookbub. Friday and Saturday alone we gave away nearly 2,000 books, and ended up close to the top 200 free Kindle books list. In my experience on other days of the week, the totals are far less impressive--maybe a hundred or two hundred copies. While that's great (I've had some books register a lowly "6." As in "6 copies given away...for a whole weekend!"), it's not quite as wonderful as giving away hundreds or thousands of copies in a single day.

4) Start Making Connections With Interested Social Media

There are a ton of essentially free promotional outlets across your preferred social media outlet of choice. I tend to be partial to twitter, so I started announcing my free book giveaways on twitter using some tried-and-true hashtags, namely #kindle, #free, #ebook, #kindledeal, etc.

Before I knew it, I started to get a number of promotional outlets following me on twitter, and came to find that they had promoted my books to their audiences without even telling me!

A few takeaways: first, I have some books with great covers, and some with "not so great covers." I have books with a lot of (good) reviews, and some without many reviews at all.

I've found that the better the cover, the more good reviews the book has, and, in turn, the more frequently it'll get picked up by these free book promo sites and twitter accounts.

It may not be fair, it may not be right, but that's just the way it is. That's not to say that getting "sock puppet" reviews is the way to go, either--I've never done so, and that's despite even my most successful (albeit modestly-so) books languishing with only a handful of reviews for months, if not years before I started giving more books away, and getting some more traction.

Also, I'm not sure how sustained the bump is that you get from some of these promo sites and accounts. But there is a bump, and you can use that bump to get on the free lists, which gets you in the algos and more visible to the list-browsers.

See a pattern here?

5) Forge Alliances With Fellow Authors

Part of the beauty of having a group of talented authors like we do with Quantum Zoo is that each person can promote giveaways in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Some of us prefer twitter. Others like facebook. Others still like talking to people face-to-face.

The point is, it's a lot easier to spread the word with twelve voices working in tandem than with just one person shouting "buy my book!" a thousand times into the void, praying that the equivalent of "reader SETI" will pick up a signal and run with it.

Much like the social media "boost" I wrote about above, if possible, you should try to time things so that each author gives the book a "mini boost" that can lead to incremental hops up the top 100 lists, all the way to becoming #1 in several categories.

So what if you don't have these kinds of built-in alliances? As a twitter guy, I have to say I've met numerous fantastic indie authors and reviewers by monitoring hashtags on twitter (#amwriting is a good way to encourage your fellow authors with a built-in conversation starter) and by putting myself out there in related discussions.

If I see an indie cover I like, I'll tell the author and the artist. I'll tweet and retweet interesting articles that people share. Before QZ, I was a part of an online writer's group that sadly eventually disintegrated, but was, for a while, an excellent source of discussion and ideas. You can get active on a forum like KBoards' Writer's Cafe, and meet like-minded folks that way.

There are tons of ways to connect with other indie authors, but they all involve one thing that a lot of semi-introverted writer-types (like me) sometimes have a problem with:

You have to be willing to put yourself out there in a friendly, "non-spammy" manner, engage folks with similar interests, and actually forge a genuine emotional connection with them.

That's probably a topic for its own post, but for now, try reaching out to 3-5 new people a day, and see what happens.

6) Price Appropriately

Up until the giveaway, we priced Quantum Zoo at $0.99 for a number of reasons. We wanted to reward our various fanbases and early adopters who were actually waiting for the book with a lower price. We also wanted to move copies more than anything else at the start, so we figured $0.99 was the best way to do so.

Right before the promotion, though, we upped the price to $4.99.

I think this helped for a couple reasons. First, raising the price provides more value to the reader. If someone sees that they can get something worth $5 for free, it's more attractive than getting something valued $0.99 (already almost essentially a giveaway) for free.

It's especially true of the "free book hunters," who tend to be (how can I put this gently?) somewhat more "frugal" and "value-sensitive."

Second, a higher price will drive more revenue once the giveaway is over, and will bump your book's Amazon ranking more, should you time it properly (see "The Kicker: How to Make Money Off of Free Kindle Giveaways" below).

A Successful Giveaway

Despite going into our giveaway without having done any prep-work, we managed to give away over 2,000 copies of Quantum Zoo in a three day period. I'm convinced that it was because:

-J.M.'s great cover gets peoples' attention, and gets them to click on any social media posts we make, or draws them into our Amazon page.

-We had the foresight to maximize the number of categories we were in via keywords, which meant that we had the potential to (and actually did) make the top 100 lists in a half-dozen categories or more.

-We promoted quickly and efficiently to various social media outlets. The right kind of paid advertisement can work wonders on a free giveaway (more on paid vs. unpaid book ads in an upcoming post), but until you want to put the proper resources into a proven route like BookBub, the biggest "bang for your buck" will be engaging your existing social media followers.

-We leveraged our group into using a variety of promotional tactics, using each group member's strength. We had people promoting the giveaway on sites ranging from Facebook, to twitter, to Kboards, to Reddit. No one really tried anything new--we all just stuck with what we already knew.

-We let the algorithms take over, do their job, and let us climb the top 100 free charts, all the way to the top of several of them.

While it sounds fairly simple, I can't stress how fun it is to watch your "Amazon free" rank shrink over the course of a few days as you keep giving away books, without much promotion, each copy a chance to connect with a potential new fan.

The results?
Friday: 709 copies given away
Saturday: 1,117 copies given away
Sunday: 396 copies given away (without much of a change in rankings...)

Total: 2,222 copies given away!

The Kicker: How to Make Money Off of Free Kindle Giveaways

Giving away thousands of books is quite the accomplishment in its own right--after all, especially with a project like Quantum Zoo, where visibility of the authors is the most important goal, simply getting copies out there was important to us. We got a number of reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, and continue to get people adding the book on GR.

But what if I told you that you could use your free giveaway to boost sales of your book, too?

The simple fact of the matter is, you absolutely can! This is despite countless people complaining that you no longer get "a boost" after letting your promotion run its course.

The fact of the matter is, they're right! If you simply let your promo run its course, no matter how many books you give away, the "sales bump" you see will be small to non-existent.

The key words are "let it run its course." Did you know that you can cancel a free book promo at any time? And that if you cancel a giveaway in the middle of the day, you'll still get the algo boost as if you're still on the free list?!

It may sound crazy, but it's true. I figured this out doing a similar giveaway for JWATT earlier this year. I gave away close to 800 copies over two days. This was no small feat--before the promotion, JWATT was absolutely dead in the water--I was lucky to get a download a month.

I had read about the "cut the free promo short" strategy in another book, and come mid-Sunday, after a few football-watching beers, I decided, "What the hell? Let's see what happens...", and cut the JWATT promo short.

For those of you who don't know, I write a weekly NFL column over at insideSTL, so I went back to finishing it up, and didn't think much about the promo until later that night.

When I checked the dashboard, I was shocked:

26 sales!

This is for a book that had been absolutely dead in the water the week before! And guess what? Ever since, it's been steadily building up reviews from that giveaway, and selling into the low double-digits per month.


So there you go--how to engineer a successful Kindle giveaway AND make a little cash doing so. While you may not have the same immediate success we enjoyed with Quantum Zoo, try sticking to these principles for a while, and see if they help you out.

One other thing to remember: we figured all of this out by researching and experimenting. Amazon is constantly changing their algorithms and services that authors can use. For example, before Kindle Unlimited, I had my books across a variety of ebook platforms. Now, since I get paid more for KU borrows and get increased exposure through it, pretty much all of my books are in KU.

Some of these steps may not work for you--it's really up to you to figure out how to best leverage 1) Your own talents, 2) Your specific book, and 3) Amazon's algo structure into giving away as many copies as possible.

Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Shameless Plug

One more thing...Quantum Zoo is free once again! From December 8-12 (Monday-Friday), you can pick it up for free on Kindle over at Amazon. Feel free to spread the word, and thanks for reading!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The 2014 NFL Season is Here! A Few Announcements...

Amazingly, the 2014 NFL season is about to start. 

In the past, I've written extensively on how the anticipation for a new NFL season is kind of like Christmas Eve...or Hanukkah Eve for my Jewish readers...or Ramadan Eve for my Muslim readers...although I don't know if they look forward to a month of fasting or not...


At any rate, NFL season is one of my favorite times of year since I both really like watching football, and enjoy covering it, as well. Before I go too far, I'm happy to announce that I'll be writing a weekly column for CBSSports 920 and insideSTL.com this fall, and appearing as a guest on a show here and there (namely "Prime Time with Joe Roderick") in anticipation of another visit to cover Super Bowl media week in 2015.

Now, this doesn't mean that I'll be at Rams practice every day, like I was back in 2011. Frankly, I think it's best for everyone if I'm not out there daily--much like this year, that 2011 season started out with the blinding glare of optimism for the hometown 53, and ended in a bloodbath of awful football and cornerback injuries, with Steve Spagnuolo on his knees screaming at the heavens "WHYYYYYYY?!? WHHYYYYYYY!?" like Nancy Kerrigan. Jim Thomas is already the best insider the station could hope for--he's one of the best football reporters in the biz. I don't think there's anything I could really add to the excellent job he already does covering the team day-to-day with class, wisdom, and insight.

What I can do that JT doesn't have the luxury of doing, though, is attend the odd practice or two, watch the games, and comment on what I see from afar
I hope to be as successful as "Eddie" one
of these days...
, hopefully with the entertainment to which you've become accustomed...and potentially a little snark if it's warranted...which it shouldn't be this year because OMG GREATEST RAMS TEAM EVER, AMIRITE?!?

(I'm not so sure about that, but we'll save that column for another day...)

Besides, since I'm trying to follow the Mike Matheny blueprint to a T, I've accepted a gig as an assistant coach for the John Burroughs Bombers "C" football coaching staff. Hey, if Mike can make the jump, and Jeff Fisher decides to retire after an improbable Super Bowl run...

Well...I would say stranger things have happened, but outside of a Whoopi Goldberg movie, that's just not the case.  

Between coaching, writing Rams columns, appearing as a guest on the radio from time-to-time, and my freelance business, I'm booked pretty solid for the fall. But hey, you wanted me to get back to football, SO HERE YOU GO! All football, all the time, baby! 

Of course, I kid--so far, coaching has been great, and I always look forward to covering the Rams, despite my love / hate / anger / frustration / utter despair / mourning / "What the hell happened this year?" / winter of discontent / undue hope after the draft / love roller coaster I've been on with this team over the past five seasons or so.

But I just thought I'd pass this along to you all so that you know to check out insideSTL for my column every Monday, and to prepare yourselves for some hot takes this fall over the airwaves.

Hope this is as good of news for you all as it is for me, and I look forward to my "Year of Football" and the insane emotional swings from week-to-week with every Rams win and loss good times it will produce for all!